Screening Human Embryos for Polygenic Traits Has Limited Utility

Ehud Karavani, Or Zuk, Danny Zeevi, Nir Barzilai, Nikos C. Stefanis, Alex Hatzimanolis, Nikolaos Smyrnis, Dimitrios Avramopoulos, Leonid Kruglyak, Gil Atzmon, Max Lam, Todd Lencz, Shai Carmi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The increasing proportion of variance in human complex traits explained by polygenic scores, along with progress in preimplantation genetic diagnosis, suggests the possibility of screening embryos for traits such as height or cognitive ability. However, the expected outcomes of embryo screening are unclear, which undermines discussion of associated ethical concerns. Here, we use theory, simulations, and real data to evaluate the potential gain of embryo screening, defined as the difference in trait value between the top-scoring embryo and the average embryo. The gain increases very slowly with the number of embryos but more rapidly with the variance explained by the score. Given current technology, the average gain due to screening would be ≈2.5 cm for height and ≈2.5 IQ points for cognitive ability. These mean values are accompanied by wide prediction intervals, and indeed, in large nuclear families, the majority of children top-scoring for height are not the tallest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1424-1435.e8
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 27 2019


  • cognitive ability
  • complex traits
  • embryo screening
  • embryo selection
  • height
  • polygenic scores
  • pre-implantation genetic testing
  • quantitative genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'Screening Human Embryos for Polygenic Traits Has Limited Utility'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this