Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Scan My Embryo’s Barcode

By Michael Cook

IVF “mix-ups” could be avoided by barcoding embryos, but at what point is a new life reduced to a manufactured product?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

As a child in a small American town I used to visit a tobacco shop to buy my sweets. It was hot one summer’s day, and the quiet man behind the counter with a thick Polish accent had rolled up his sleeves. I remember seeing a number tattooed on his inner forearm. Tattoos weren’t fashion statements then, and the only ones I had seen were the anchors on the bulging forearms of Popeye.

A six-digit number was an odd choice for a tattoo, but I didn’t ask him about it. I was more interested in my sweets.

Perhaps I should have. Perhaps I would have learned a few things about how people can be reduced to commodities.

All these years later, that tattoo spells out the theory and practice of dehumanisation for me better than any textbook. Like branding in the ancient world, those blurry blue digits documented a human being’s transformation into a cheap, disposable commodity.

It was with this memory in mind that I read an article in the journal Human Reproduction.

Researchers at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain have come up with an “exciting” and “novel” system for tracking embryos and eggs in IVF clinics – essentially microscopic tattoos. They have successfully attached several bio­functionalised polysilicon barcodes to the outer surface of the egg. The labels are injected into a space between the cell wall and the zona pellucida, a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.