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Biotech Science

Sequencing the Unborn 146

sciencehabit writes "What if you could read much of your child's medical future while it was still in the womb? Taking a major step toward that goal, one fraught with therapeutic potential and ethical questions, scientists have now accurately predicted almost the whole genome of an unborn child by sequencing DNA from the mother's blood and DNA from the father's saliva (abstract)."
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Sequencing the Unborn

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  • Re:Odd (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:31PM (#40237505)

    I think this is the relevant part of the article: "In most cases, for a particular genetic sequence on a specific chromosome, the variants from each pair should be represented equally in the woman's blood. But in an expectant woman, whose child has received only one variant as part of its genetic inheritance, her blood will contain a little more of that variant because of the free-floating fetal DNA. If the mother's patterns of genetic variants, or haplotypes, are known, statistics allow researchers to conclude what variants she passed on to her offspring. In 2010, Lo showed that with both parents' haplotypes known, it would be possible to predict the child's genome from the DNA in an expectant mom's blood."

  • Re:Odd (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:34PM (#40237537)

    I don't see how this is possible, given that genetic recombination happens. Unless the parents are very genetically similar (ick), there should be billions of possibilities.

    This problem is my area of research (didn't RTFA, just assuming this is how they did it). There is cell free fetal DNA circulating in mothers and the challenge is isolating enough of it for deep sequencing without contamination from mom. I'm assuming they are using dad's DNA to help 'choose' between competing reads to figure out which ones are mom and which ones are fetal in origin. A less sophisticated version of this approach has been used to test for TS21 (Down's syndrome).

  • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:49PM (#40237683) Journal

    Yes in Gattaca you could tell the genetics of your unborn child, but you could also do genetic engineering on the unborn child in Gattaca and it was that portion that had more to do with the plot.

    What fucking genetic engineering on the unborn child did you see? They clearly showed that children were selected from a number of fertlized eggs while the rest of the embryos were discarded.

    I'm assuming you didn't actually see Gattaca but another movie, and are confusing the two.

  • My WTF, explained (Score:5, Informative)

    by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:58PM (#40237769) Homepage Journal

    What's decidedly unclear from the summary: they're sequencing fetal cells found in the mother's blood. It was separated from the mother's own blood cells with a nify trick using the father's DNA.

    So it allows them to sequence the baby's type without having to touch the infant itself. They're not making any "mother+father=baby" predictions before the baby is conceived, which would be impossible just from their ordinary (somatic) cells.

  • Re:Odd (Score:5, Informative)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:59PM (#40237777)
    To summarize: it's not yet possible to isolate only embryonic DNA from the mothers' blood, so using the father and mother's DNA sequences, they can tell which sequences are from the mother and which one are from the embryo.

    Without the father's sequence, the confidence in the sequencing probably goes down, but is still possible.
  • by zill ( 1690130 ) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @06:19PM (#40238025)
    Straight from the script: []

    Now you appreciate I can only work with the raw material I have at my disposal but for a little extra...I could also attempt to insert sequences associated with enhanced mathematical or musical ability.

    Emphasis mine.

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."