A conceptual artificial womb facility called EctoLife is providing a glimpse into one possible future of fertility.
Conceived by biotechnologist, filmmaker and sci-fi author Hashem Al-Ghaili, EctoLife would be powered entirely by renewable energy and accommodate up to 400 “growth pods” — allowing for the incubation of up to 30,000 lab-grown babies per year.
In Al-Ghaili’s vision, these pods would be made of materials that prevent germs from sticking to their surfaces, enabling babies to develop in infection-free environments. With the help of an artificial umbilical cord, these pods would provide custom nutrients tailored to their individual needs.
Each pod would also be able to provide real-time data on each baby’s vital signs, allowing doctors to track their developmental progress and intervene medically if need be. This data could be accessed 24/7 by parents via an app on their phone — an app that would also provide a 360-degree view of their developing baby.
By accessing this app, parents could watch a time-lapse of their baby’s growth, share real-time photos with family and customize the music and languages being played to their baby within the pod. They can even speak to their babies to help familiarize them with their voices.
But the most advanced — and potentially controversial — feature of EctoLife would be what Al-Ghaili calls the “Elite Package,” which would allow parents to genetically engineer their embryo before placing it in the artificial womb.
“Thanks to CRISPR-CAS 9 gene editing tool, you can edit any trait of your baby through a wide range of over 300 genes,” Al-Ghaili’s explains. “By genetically engineering a set of genes, the Elite Package allows you to customize your baby’s eye color, hair color, skin tone, physical strength, height and level of intelligence. It also allows you to fix any inherited genetic diseases that are part of your family history, so that your baby and their offspring will live a healthy, comfortable life, free of genetic diseases.”
According to Al-Ghaili’s, the concept of EctoLife is based on “over 50 years of groundbreaking scientific research conducted by researchers worldwide.”
While EctoLife is still just a concept, Al-Ghaili’s vision certainly does pose some interesting questions about what the future holds for fertility and reproduction.
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