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Orchid: She Decides Which Babies Are Born

Orchid: She Decides Which Babies Are Born

Please protect the kids! Or, if God isn’t around, a baby startup company called Orchid. It gives people who want to be parents a great option: There are two kinds of babies: normal and orchid. A healthy baby could get cancer as an adult. Or be born with a very serious brain disorder, lose your sight, Or gain weight. A normal baby might not even make it to giving birth. All of those things could still happen to an Orchid baby, but Noor Siddiqui, 29, says the chance is much lower if you use her method. It’s also known as “genetic enhancement.”

People squirm when I talk about Orchid in a nice setting. “This is not comfortable,” they say. I said, “Not for me.” “So not normal.” It’s impossible to avoid talking about Nazis and a word that starts with “eu” and ends in “genics.” (Orchid would rather I not say it.) One new mom I was talking to was very upset and shaking her head. A few minutes later, she tried to change the subject by telling everyone in the room that she had just given her 6-month-old son his first peanut and that in three months, she would give him his first shrimp because that’s what science says she needs to do to keep him from getting allergies.

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Of course, that’s the whole point of Siddiqui’s pitch: to protect future people from pain based on what science says. That’s why Siddiqui started a medical company when she was a Thiel Fellow and why she started Orchid when she was 25. That’s also why she wanted to be one of the first people to buy the company’s gene-enhancing product as soon as it came out.

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The help Siddiqui and her husband need to have children requires embryos. So, in 2022, Siddiqui did IVF at Stanford and ended up with 16 candidates. She then sent sample slices to Orchid’s lab in North Carolina. Usually, preimplantation testing only looks for serious problems, and then the doctor picks the most attractive person. That’s not this. Siddiqui says this “has been on society’s mind—sci-fi’s mind—for a generation”: a new genetic fate for every pregnant woman. At the moment, Orchid figures out how likely it is that each embryo will one day have any of the more than 1,200 diseases and conditions for which we have genetic information that ranges from being rock solid to, well, hazy and extrapolative. What does it know that it will figure out in the future?

Orchid has only 16 workers and $12 million in funding, so it is still in its early stages. But they’re already in 40 IVF centers across the country and have a lot of customers. Several famous tech people are said to be involved. Siddiqui laughs when asked to blow their cover, but she’s happy to show me the information on her eggs. She does this on a beautiful day in front of a coffee shop near her home in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. She opens the report on her laptop and sees a sleek layout with lots of different charts and numbers.

Some are in black (strong chances against schizophrenia), while others are in red (not so good for breast cancer). That’s all Siddiqui, a computer scientist who went to Stanford, would want us to talk about: the numbers, the percentiles, and the “penetrances.” But I can’t get her to look away from the numbers and the science, which is what she says. That’s not the whole story. She said it herself: “This is also a science fiction story.”

About Davie Bancroft

Davie Bancroft is an accomplished author with a strong focus on investment and the tech business landscape. With extensive knowledge and experience in these fields, he provides valuable insights into emerging trends and opportunities. Davie's writings explore the intersection of technology and finance, offering practical advice for investors and entrepreneurs. His expertise and analytical approach make him a trusted resource for those seeking to navigate the dynamic world of investments and tech startups.