Genetic research is a field that is shrouded with misconceptions and emotion. From cloning and mutants, to designer babies, there is a lot that can be done with genetics and that’s not only scary, but unnerving. On the other hand there is a lot of good to come from it and this has the potential to override the exaggerated downsides.
So what can genetic research bring to the table and what does this hold for us in the future? In short: a lot. But it can be more confusing than not.
Although not as trivial and futuristic, recent research has discovered that it is possible to determine the full genetic sequence of an unborn child at 18 weeks, non-invasively. This new method, which involves knowing the genetic sequence of the mother and father, allows the DNA from the unborn child that is present in small quantities in the mothers’ blood to be determined and then sequenced.
So what does this actually mean?
First of all, we get half of our genes from our mother, and the other half from our father. This means that we can predict the probability of a child having a genetic disorder if we know what recessive and dominant genes the parents carry. But it’s not as simple as that. There are so many possible combinations of genes that it can not be predicted that easily. That’s why genetic testing now exists. So using our knowledge of the DNA of the parents, paired with a genetic blood test, the genetic sequence of the unborn child can be accurately determined as early as 18 weeks. Simple!
What does it offer us as parents, or one day parents to be?
This new method not only provides women with a safer method of testing for heritable genetic disease but also a means to identify and locate mutations if they have occurred. We have testing in the form of amniocentesis but it’s old and outdated with increased risk of miscarriage involved with the process. It is therefore only offered to women who fall into the category of high-risk pregnancies, such as women over the age of thirty. This method when used clinically would be able to be used for all pregnancies and with research still being undertaken on this method, it may be possible to determine the genetic sequence as early as 8 weeks into the pregnancy.
It’s by no means genetic modification and the babies won’t be designed. It’s a simple blood sample that is tested to tell us about the unborn child with a greater degree of accuracy with almost no risk.
What’s not great about that?