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Prenatal whole genome sequencing: Just because we can, should we?

• http://www.bio-medicine.org, Susan Gilbert
 The authors are current or former scholars at the National Institutes of Health's Department of Bioethics.

Most analyses of the ethical issues raised by whole genome sequencing have been "futuristic forecasting," but the authors conclude that "this is problematic given the speed with which whole genome sequencing is likely to be incorporated into clinical care," as its price falls to under $1,000.

Prenatal whole genome sequencing differs from current prenatal genetic testing practice in ethically relevant ways. Most notably, whole genome sequencing would radically increase the volume and scope of available prenatal genetic data. In contrast with current tests, which identify serious genetic conditions in fetuses at high risk of them, the new tests would likely be used by many more expectant parents and reveal a wide spectrum of genetic traits, including disease susceptibility.

Some of the ethical challenges posed by prenatal whole genome sequencing arise from the uncertainty of what the information means. The function of more than 90 percent of genes in the human genome is unknown and as a result, the article says, "much of the data generated from whole genome sequencing over the next few years (or even decades) will be of questionable utility."

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