The company received a U.S. patent last week for software it offers clients to estimate the chances that a theoretical child might have key genetic traits.
Called the “Family Traits Inheritance Calculator,” it does not examine disease risks but predicts six variable benign traits, including “eye color” and “muscle performance,” based on how parental DNA would likely combine.
23andMe has offered the service for years—it applied for the patent in 2008—but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office decision has brought new attention to its potential. A bioethics commentary out today—written for the journal Genetics in Medicine by lead author Sigrid Sterckx of Ghent University in Belgium, and three others—suggests that U.S. authorities might have withheld the patent for moral reasons. “[S]electing children in ways such as those patented by 23andMe is hugely ethically controversial,” they write.