Newbie designers? Scientists can read almost the entire genome of an embryo


DNA strands Altayb/iStock

MyOme, a California-based company, claims to be able to decipher almost all of the DNA code in a day-old embryo created through in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Given the limited amount of genetic material available for analysis, this is a very difficult task. Against all odds, the researchers were able to achieve this breakthrough by sequencing the DNA of both parents and “reconstructing” the genome of an embryo using this data.

This might suggest that it might be possible to estimate the risk of diseases that could arise decades in the future simply by examining an embryo created by IVF a few days ago.

Human genome sequencing

It should be noted that this genetic risk prediction is currently being tested in adults and is sometimes provided in the clinic. The technology’s application to IVF embryos has sparked controversy among scientists who argue that the bioethics of genetically modified children could be incredibly dangerous, but that hasn’t stopped the technology from advancing rapidly.

According to the study published in natural medicinethe MyOme team, led by co-founders and scientists Matthew Rabinowitz and Akash Kumar, claimed to have reached the scores by sequencing the genomes of ten pairs of parents who had previously undergone IVF and had children.

The researchers used data collected during the IVF process, as 110 embryos from the couples had undergone limited genetic testing at the time. Using statistical and population genomics tools, the team was able to anticipate much of the embryo’s DNA by combining this data with the more complete sequences of the parental genome. The researchers were also able to see if their reconstruction was accurate by checking the genome of the couples’ babies.

When the researchers compared this to the reconstructed genome of the embryo from which the child came, they found that it was essentially a match. At least 96 percent of the reconstructed genome aligned with inherited genetic variations in the corresponding infant in a 3-day-old embryo, and at least 98 percent in a 5-day-old embryo.

The researchers were also able to calculate polygenic risk scores for 12 diseases, including breast cancer, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes, for the embryos.

It could change everything

“We’re talking about providing information about the risks people are concerned about — heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease,” co-founder Akash Kumar explained in a post. Science item. Kumar is also a pediatric medical geneticist, who still sees patients. As a doctor, he frequently sees frustrated parents who want to avoid passing on to their children a high risk of illnesses that run in their families.

Technology could possibly help there. One day, science may even allow parents to select embryos based on their IQ and risk of certain diseases. However, it is far too early to say anything as such a new method will be fraught with pitfalls and obstacles.

Additionally, there are many limitations, including the fact that the study is based on DNA from individuals of mostly European ancestry, which means it would be less accurate in other groups. It’s also unclear whether scores based on adult DNA and health data apply to embryos, in part because the environment can greatly influence the results.

The researchers say they are aware of the shortcomings and criticisms. However, they will continue with further studies, as they see a lot of potential.

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