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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 June 2006, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
The genius sperm bank
By Paul Olding

Robert Klark Graham
Graham recruited all donors

He was a millionaire who dreamed of saving humanity using the sperm of geniuses. But what became of Robert Klark Graham's master plan?

In the late 1970s, in a underground bunker on his ranch near San Diego, American millionaire Robert Klark Graham set up the world's most controversial sperm bank known as the Repository for Germinal Choice.

Already famous as the inventor of the shatterproof spectacle lens, 70-year-old Graham was set to turn his hand to a much more infamous career.

He believed that "retrograde humans" were breeding unchecked. He wanted to reverse this trend by bringing thousands of geniuses into the world, fathered by the most brilliant minds. Single-handedly he dreamed of saving humanity using the sperm of clever men.

Controversial

Graham wanted to recruit the choicest sperm he could find. He initially convinced three Nobel Laureates to donate, including the notorious racist William Shockley. But elderly sperm - albeit eminent - was not good for freezing, so he decided to cast the net wider.

While at a dinner party botany professor Jim Bidlack was asked by Graham if he would be willing to provide him with a specimen that very evening.

Professor Jim Bidlack
Bidlack was a donor

"We were getting close to the end of the evening, we had a conversation and somewhere during that conversation he said 'would you be willing to provide us with a specimen, do you think you are up to it?'," says Mr Bidlack.

He was and did.

The tycoon's controversial project was exposed to the world by LA Times journalist Edwin Chen. He stumbled across the story while interviewing a researcher at a zoo, contacted Graham and was invited over for an interview.

"There were a lot of questions, many of them pointed at this notion of a master race and that this is something that shouldn't be done, but he was very boastful," says Chen.

Slammed in the press and accused of being a eugenicist and Nazi, Graham went on the defensive. He said while the principles of what he was doing might not be popular, they were sound. He insisted he was just trying to take advantage of the possibilities of genetics. The women came flocking.

Codename

"I had a sperm bank locally," says Lisa Zerr, from Colorado. "But it had students that were occasional drug users, they had multiple partners and tattoos and were donating for extra beer money. I just didn't feel comfortable with the quality of donors from that bank.

"At Graham's bank they weren't just accepting men that came in to apply, they were actually going out and looking for men that were healthy, smart and good looking. Genius or not, it was good people I was looking for. I think that knowing they were geniuses was sort of an added bonus."

Andrea Gronwall from California says she was shocked about how easy it was to contact Graham's sperm bank. "I opened the phone book and my god, the Repository for Germinal Choice was in the yellow pages," she says.

Courtney Ramm
Courtney Ramm is a gifted student
But Graham was offering more than genius sperm, he was offering "healthy and intelligent" women freedom of choice, where couples could choose the donor whose characteristics they prefer. It was a bold move, not previously heard of in the world of sperm banking.

Graham provided couples with a catalogue listing the attributes of codenamed donors. The genius sperm was then couriered for home insemination, often aided by the husbands, a speculum and a torch.

"Instead of merely being patients, women got a chance to be shoppers, they got a chance to make this choice themselves," says biographer David Plotz. "It was catalogue shopping, it was a revelation to the women who came to the repository."

But running a sperm bank was hard work. "There were so many recipients wanting sperm and there was so little sperm, never enough sperm," says former staff member Julianna McKillop.

Graham took it upon himself to recruit donors and it was on one such expedition in February 1997, that the 90-year-old Graham died. While attending a science conference in Seattle he slipped in his hotel bathtub, was knocked unconscious and drowned. Unfunded, his repository closed two years later.

Poster boy

Graham's dream may have died, but his legacy lives on. He changed the face of modern sperm banking, not just with the innovation of the donor catalogue, but also the previously unheard of concept where clients could actively choose donors.

Over the years, the bank was ultimately responsible for the birth of 217 children. Of the few repository children that have come forward, Doron Blake, 23, was the bank's second-born child and Graham's poster boy.

Doron Blake
Blake was 'poster boy' for bank
"I turned out very well, my IQ was off the charts and basically I was everything Robert Graham wanted," he says.

"Throughout my life I've felt I've not had to work as hard for the level of achievement that I've reached as most of my peers did.

"I don't usually broadcast the fact that I came from a sperm bank because I don't think it's that interesting. People find out when it comes up."

But Doron is not convinced by Graham's grand plan for creating more intelligent people.

"As far as I'm concerned it doesn't matter how a child is made in terms of the genes and chromosomes of it, it's how the child was raised and nurtured that really matters."

Anonymous

Seventeen-year-old ballerina Courtney Ramm, agrees. Also a product of the sperm bank, she says she finds most things easy.

"In school I think I was pretty much in the top. I never found anything too challenging as a child. Everything pretty much came easy for me. But I think intelligence is not only based on your genes, I think it's also about the environment you're brought up in."

But most of the sperm bank children still remain anonymous, so no one can test to see whether Graham's experiment to breed intelligent kids using clever sperm really did work or not.

Horizon: The Genius Sperm Bank will be broadcast on Thursday 15 June at 2100 BST on BBC Two.


Every species on the planet needing to reproduce with males and females exercises positive choices for the potential of successful offspring. All Robert Klark Graham did was to provide a dating service for sperms and eggs and to say it was eugenics is a bit simplistic.
Chris, Yeovil United Kingdom

Hmmm... Probably explains why most Nobel Laureates and boffins wear glasses...
PJM, Beckenham, Kent

When we as individuals look for a partner, there are many attributes we looks for. Looks, class, wealth & intelligence may be among them. We do this because we want a partner who is well suited to us and will provide the kind of offspring we are hoping for. Getting sperm from a genius donor bank is just an extension of those same basic instincts.
Anthony, Bristol - UK

In Britain most sperm is donated by students, especially medical students, so in all probability your "donor" is going to be much brighter than average anyway. In general IQ is the product of your enviroment, not your genes and intelligence seems to runs in families because these families encourage learning.
Peter, Nottingham

Fascinating story! I think all parents want their child to be gifted and talented, and take pride in their successes, so it seems quite logical that if sperm donation is required, the best possible donor will be chosen. The problem is, as usual, that only the better off were able to afford to make the best choices, and the rest of us would have had to accept the more normal donor ie hard-up student with an unknown and possibly undesirable lifestyle. At the end of the day ALL babies conceived in this way know they must have been very wanted, and as nurture is just as important as nature, I'm sure they all had a good start in life.
Jane Stolworthy, Cleethorpes

I don't see anything wrong with this. Genetic selection goes on all the time when we select partners. Sensible people don't, after all, mate with just anyone for the purposes of having family. We rarely get our perfect partner but we do select partners we consider good looking and, hopefully, not too dumb. Ask and you will find that most women want life partners who are successful and can provide. Socialisation and nuturing is built on top of this natural advantage.
michael bennuto, Birmingham

This was a very interesting article, if graham's experiment did actually work, then he is already responsible for a number of great things namely 217 things, but without ever actually knowing how most of the children have turned out, then there is no way of knowing. But least he tried; this man had a great idea and went with it. This is great stuff indeed.
Jonny Morrison, Derry

Doron Blake whose "IQ is off the charts" also says "There's luck, there's fortune, there's karma,..." If he believes in karma I presume he talking about the very low end of the IQ charts.
Mike, Brighton

We need to repeat this experiment now, otherwise the chavs will rule!
Mark, Chesham

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