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Your Unborn Baby’s Genetic Code: Do You Want To Know?

Your Unborn Baby’s Genetic Code: Do You Want To Know?
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Scientists are now able to sequence almost the entire genome of a fetus using a blood sample from the mother and saliva from the father. This new non-invasive approach — in contrast to amniocentesis, which involves sampling fluid from the uterus and carries a slight risk of miscarriage — means that virtually the entire DNA of an 18-week-old fetus can be determined. Prenatal testing for a number of genetic disorders could be a real possibility very soon. Expecting parents could soon find themselves faced with some wrenching ethical decisions, should the tests reveal that their fetus has a genetic disorder.

New Study: “Noninvasive Whole-Genome Sequencing of a Human Fetus”

Genome scientists at the University of Washington used new high-speed DNA sequencing techniques along with statistical and computational modeling to create the test, which can determine a fetus’ genome with up to 98 percent accuracy. They drew on research from the 1990s that found that a pregnant woman’s blood plasma contains cell-free DNA from her fetus and that these fragments can be genetically analyzed. Indeed, there are already commercially available tests that rely on analysis of fetal DNA fragments to determine a fetus’ gender, paternity and whether it might have Down Syndrome.

The new test would allow for the detection of Mendelian disorders, which result from the mutation of a single gene and include cystic fibrosisTay-Sachs disease and Marfan syndrome. Besides such inherited genetic disorders, the new test can potentially identify de novo or spontaneous mutations, which are responsible for the majority of genetic defects and which have been linked to disorders including schizophrenia and autism. De novo mutations are thought to account for about 10 percent of cases of mental retardation and learning disabilities.

The research, which was published in the Science Translational Medicine, could enable doctors to screen fetuses for some 3,500 genetic disorders.

Parents Could Face Wrenching Ethical Questions From Prenatal Testing Results

While analyzing one fetus’ DNA would currently cost about $20,000 to $50,000, researchers predict that, due to fast-moving developments in DNA sequencing, the test could be widely available in three to five years.

Some 85 percent of expecting parents who learn their fetus has Down Syndrome choose to abort. As the New York Times quotes Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Berkeley-based public interest group, the Center for Genetics and Society, the test could lead to scenarios in which people are able to decide “who deserves to be born” — the prospect of “designer babies,” of parents perhaps choosing to end a pregnancy because a fetus does not have certain desired traits. Could people even start requesting that potential partners undergo genetic testing at some point in the dating process?

What If There Were a Prenatal Genetic Test For Autism?

What parents decide to do with such information will be certainly highly personal.

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57 comments

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11:18AM PST on Feb 18, 2014

This is extremely important information for parents that what to know. Tests that a person decides to have are a personal decision. It does not belong to another.

6:24PM PDT on Oct 19, 2013

we didn't the testing available at the time.......this worries me that it is once again something "the haves" will have, but not the less needy/fortunate who might actually need it more.....

2:43AM PDT on May 10, 2013

Another question need to be, WHY do you want to know... what is the reason behind knowing... Humankind, every one of the 7 Billion+ population are unique and have potential.

Someone like Stephen Hawking, with Motor Neuron Disease, is a brilliant scientist and physicist, and he might not have been able to develop his art in the way he has, had he been physically capable and able.

This also demonstrates how the mind and senses can cope and function, sometimes to a degree that surpasses a physically normal person, without the usage of the body, which also demonstrates that the human being is a composition of parts, that can make up a greater whole, but that those parts seem able to function perfectly adequately, and sometimes brilliantly without being "connected" to each other.

Science and Scientists seem to be "tinkering" around the edges of this technology involving the genome and genetic code, almost as if, a child finds a toy, and plays with it, until it gets bored and looks around for something else with which to occupy its mind.

8:38AM PST on Feb 18, 2013

The more information the better so that people can make informed decisons

8:56AM PST on Jan 2, 2013

Shaking my head over those who say they'd never terminate a pregnancy, knowing they had a "special" child.

It's all well & good to say you value life and think people with Down syndrome are "sweet" and so on.

BUT--imagine YOURSELF paying to house someone who can't live on their own....and imagine the worry of leaving that child in the hands of "someone" who will be responsible after your death.

Medical costs for "special" people can be astronomical....is it fair to ANYONE to knowlingly continue such a pregnancy just because YOU want to have a baby?

8:42AM PST on Jan 2, 2013

I can see the advantages of knowing ahead of time about a disorder, but I would never have this done.

8:39AM PST on Jan 2, 2013

surely you'd want to know if your child will have any health problems or disabilities? you can prepare better and have the coping strategies and support in place if it is born, than then finding out and going "oh crap! panic panic. now what do we do?" especially if either of you are a carrier of a potential disorder. however, it is also within the parents' best interests also to know they have a child they can afford to look after. if the child has difficulties, it could put a financial burden on the family, possibly causing it to split and then how would that child [and parents] feel? it what you as a human can deal with. could you-or let your partner give birth to a child, then find out is has difficulties and then have to decide to put it for adoption as you can't cope? not a nice situation either way.

8:40AM PDT on Aug 29, 2012

no. who are we to decide which babies life is valuable and which isn't? It is a sad world. All babies deserve love, even if they aren't societies idea of the "perfect, ideal" child

2:18PM PDT on Aug 24, 2012

No. You should love your unborn baby no matter if they have any "disorders" or not. After all, YOU chose to have the SEX that produced that baby!!!!!!

2:18PM PDT on Aug 24, 2012

No. You should love your unborn baby no matter if they have any "disorders" or not. After all, YOU chose to have the SEX that produced the baby!!!!!!

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