Sequencing the Genome of An Unborn Baby

Posted by John Patrick on

Genome

Beginning in 1990, more than 200 scientists collaborated on a $3-billion project to sequence the roughly 3 billion bases of human DNA. Between 2002 and 2008 the cost to perform the sequencing gradually declined from $100 million to $10 million. The introduction of next generation sequencing technology in 2008 led to a plummeting of the cost over the six years until now, bringing the cost down to a few thousand dollars. See Falling Fast for a comparison of the price drop to Moore’s Law.

Does this mean all of us will be sequencing our genomes? Yes, that is likely, and some will push the envelope even further. Razib Khan decided to sequence the genome of his unborn son, who was later born in early June in California (see How a Geneticist Sequenced His Unborn Son’s Genome, Using Do-It-Yourself Biology Tools). Khan believes our genetic data, and that of our unborn children, belong to us. Physicians and policymakers will not necessarily agree, and many debates will be ignited in the months and years ahead.

Khan said his son turned out to be a “normal kid”. He used publicly available analytics tools to study the 43 gigabytes about his unborn son’s genome. Fortunately, he found nothing alarming or even unusual. But, what if he had found some disturbing news such as that his son would be born with some disability or with a likelihood of some future fatal disease? What actions would he and his wife then decide to take and what ethical issues would arise. I don’t think we know even a small fraction of the issues ahead. However, some things are for certain. The price of sequencing will continue to decline and the availability of big data about us and our children will be commonplace.

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