Iter­ated em­bryo selection

TagLast edit: 17 May 2021 23:00 UTC by Pablo

Iterated embryo selection (IES) is a reproductive technology that involves repeated cycles of in vitro sequencing and selection of embryos. Because it compresses multiple generations of selection into a fraction of one human maturation period, IES could theoretically increase heritable traits by several standard deviations in a relatively short period of time. In its current form, the technology was first described by Carl Shulman in 2009 (Shulman 2009), and the idea was further developed in a 2014 paper by Shulman and Nick Bostrom (Shulman & Bostrom 2014). If applied to cognitive ability, IES could potentially constitute a path to superintelligence (Bostrom 2014).

IES consists of the following four steps (Shulman & Bostrom 2014: 87):

  1. Genotyping and selecting embryos higher in desired genetic characteristics.

  2. Extracting stem cells from those embryos and converting them to gametes, maturing within six months or less.

  3. Crossing the new gametes to produce embryos.

  4. Repeating until large genetic changes have accumulated.

Technically, the main impediment to IES appears to be the difficulty of deriving gametes from embryonic pluripotent stem cells (PSCs). The median Metaculus respondent estimates that the first live birth from stem cell-derived gametes will occur by 2036 (Stafforini 2019). Socially, the main impediment is apparent opposition from prospective parents and from the general public. Public approval for preimplantation genetic diagnosis for intelligence has been found to range from 13% (Hathaway, Burns & Ostrer 2009: 140) to 19% (Winkelman et al. 2015: 668) to 28% (Kalfoglou et al. 2004: 11). However, Shulman and Bostrom note that these relatively low approval ratings are comparable to attitudes towards in vitro fertilization before the birth of the first IFV baby in 1978. After Louise Brown was born, approval went up dramatically, so a similar change may be expected following a successful demonstration of IES.


Bostrom, Nick (2014) Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Branwen, Gwern (2016) Embryo selection for intelligence,, January 22 (updated 18 January 2020).

Hathaway, Feighanne, Esther Burns & Harry Ostrer (2009) Consumers’ desire towards current and prospective reproductive genetic testing, Journal of Genetic Counseling, vol. 18, pp. 137–146.

Kalfoglou, A. et al. (2004) Reproductive genetic testing: What america thinks, Genetics and Public Policy Center.

Shulman, Carl (2009) What is multi-generational in vitro embryo selection?, The Uncertain Future.

Shulman, Carl & Nick Bostrom (2014) Embryo selection for cognitive enhancement: curiosity or game-changer?, Global Policy, vol. 5, pp. 85–92.

Stafforini, Pablo (2019) When will the first human baby from stem cell-derived gametes be born?, Metaculus, August 19.

Winkelman, William D. et al. (2015) Public perspectives on the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, vol. 32, pp. 665–675.

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