Study questions whether IQ or height can be predicted at all.

Not everyone wants to raise the lovechild of Albert Einstein and Arnold Schwarzenegger but, like it or not, designer babies are inching their way into the global marketplace.

This month it was reported that US start-up Genomic Predictions is offering genetic testing of IVF embryos that includes, among others, measures of intelligence and height.

The move reignites an ethical firestorm on predictive genetic testing.

Philosophers such as Julian Savulescu, from the University of Oxford, have argued parents have a moral obligation to have the “best” possible child.

Contrarian views abound, however, including arguments that genetic enhancement stigmatises those who don’t get it and is only available to people who can pay.

But a new study, published in the journal Cell, may render much of the kerfuffle moot. At least for now.

Led by Todd Lencz at the Feinstein Institutes of Medical Research in New York, US, the study used modelling and real-world outcomes to question whether IQ or height can be predicted at all.

The team took a hard look at genome wide association studies (GWAS) that link the genetic makeup of hundreds of thousands of people with their IQ and height. They wanted to get a handle on what gene patterns might predict the traits.

It’s a many-headed beast because, unlike disorders such as cystic fibrosis that are caused by mutations in a single gene, intelligence and height are “polygenic” – determined by many genes.

Armed with software and algorithms sufficiently powerful to crunch the numbers, Lencz’s team used the data to predict height and IQ in a bunch of “simulated embryos”.

This did not require simulated sex. Rather the virtual offspring came from pairing up the genetic data of people, including some actual couples, who took part in other studies.

But a heads up for prospective parents wanting a ripped Nobel laureate – the results were underwhelming.

Read the full story in Cosmos magazine here