In futuristic movies like "Aliens 2" and "12 Monkeys," prisoners are bar coded for easy identification. But today's reality is even wilder: Scientists have proposed bar-coding embryos.
Researchers from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain have just finished testing a method for imprinting microscopic bar codes on mouse embryos -- a procedure they plan to test soon on humans. The venture is meant to avoid mismatches during in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer procedures. But privacy experts and children's rights advocates were instantly concerned by the concept of "direct labeling" of embryos, calling for transparency in the process.
“An embryo is a human life, so we have to move forward with this very, very cautiously,” Pam Dixon, executive director for the World Privacy Forum, told FoxNews.com. “Obviously we can’t ask the embryo what it wants, so the individual making the donation must consent to this as well as the individual receiving the donation. There’s got to be a lot of public discussion.”
The reseachers insist that their technique is perfectly safe, claiming that the bar codes simply evaporate as the embryo develops into a fetus. The bar codes aren't hidden or concealed -- in fact, they're easily observed through a standard microscope, and the research team hopes to develop an automatic code reading system when they perfect their technique for labeling mouse embryos. And once that’s done, testing on human embryos will begin.
If the research team wants to be able to make the leap from mice to humans, they'll need to be certain that the code detaches. Dixon says that it would be a definite invasion of privacy if there were any indication that that the bar code would remain. She urged researchers to explore alternative means of identification before moving forward with this technique.