June 7th, 2012
05:24 PM ET

Baby's DNA constructed before birth

Mom gave a blood sample. Dad spit. The entire genome of their fetus was born.

Researchers at the University of Washington have, for the first time, done a near-total genome sequence of a fetus in this way.  Scientists published the results of this study in the journal Science Translational Medicine, suggesting that thousands of genetic diseases could be detected in children while they are still in the fetal stage.

Everyone has two copies of the human genome: One inherited from their biological mother and one from the biological father. With technology that's being used for genetic sequencing these days, it's not possible to say which variants on the chromosome you inherited from which parent.

Scientists also sequenced the cell-free component of the mother's blood - called the plasma - where about 10% of the DNA circulating is from the child, and the other 90% is from the mother. That introduces some difficulty, since it's hard to tell exactly what comes from the child.

Currently at least some component of diagnosis for genetic disorders in certain circumstances is done using technologies such as amniocentesis, which involves taking a sample of the fluid in the sac that surrounds the fetus in the womb - the mother has to have a needle inserted into her uterus, which is a lot more complicated than a simple blood test and carries some health risks.

"This might reduce the need to do invasive testing for fetuses," said Jay Shendure, associate professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington.

The focus of the study was the genome of a fetus whose mother's blood sample was taken at 18 weeks. The analysis of her blood, the father's saliva and the plasma contributed to a nearly full picture of the fetus's genome.  This model showed that the fetus had 39 mutations that it had not inherited from either parent.

To confirm, researchers looked at the baby's umbilical cord blood after it was born. In comparing the constructed DNA (from mom & dad's samples) and this cord sample,  researchers found five additional mutations that hadn't come from the mother or the father.  On the whole, the baby's artificially constructed genome using material from the parents was more than 98% accurate.

Researchers repeated the procedure on a different couple. This time the mother was only eight weeks pregnant when she donated her sample, and the father submitted a blood sample, which was processed in the same way that the other father's saliva was. This resulted in a fetal genome sequence that was 92% accurate.

"We could have brought it higher just by sequencing her plasma more deeply," said Jacob Kitzman, lead study author and graduate research fellow at the University of Washington.

There are also parts of the genome that technology available today just cannot measure very well, Kitzman says, so that's partly why there's not a 100% accuracy here.

Is gender selection of a fetus ethical?

Eight weeks are, however, well before mothers are able to get amniocentesis, which is often used at around 16 weeks.

It took more than a month to get the results from the sequencing, which is a lot longer than would be ideal in a clinical situation, Kitzman noted. In order to become more widespread, the technique would have to be easier to administer, quicker and less expensive.

So how much does this cost? Right now, in the ballpark of $50,000, Shendure says - and while that seems like a lot, keep in mind that this whole process involved sequencing the genomes of the mother and the father, separately analyzing the plasma and then double-checking the result with a sequence from the child's umbilical cord.

The price tag for sequencing has dropped by 10,000 fold in the last five years, Shendure says, so he expects this fetal genome technique will also become less expensive over time.

In the long-term, the technique may even help garner new insights about genetic diseases, but more immediately it would be restricted to identifying the genetic disorders that we already understand, he said.

"Whether this is the sort of thing we would do on a widespread basis for all pregnancies, that’s an open question and a complex one," he said.

The complexity comes, of course, from the ethical issues that arise concerning parents who would selectively abort fetuses that are predestined for certain conditions.

The technology worries medical ethicist Harriet Washington, who fears parents could use genome sequencing to predict and selectively abort children that don't meet certain standards - not just for diseases, but for things like hair and eye color.

“If we don’t look at the dangers, if we adopt this Pollyanna attitude and only look at the benefits, then it’s really easy to end up in a situation where we are blindsided,” Washington said.

Perhaps one day, even intelligence scores or skills could be forecasted, creating a situation akin the movie "Gattaca" where babies are basically custom-created to suit the needs of parents who can afford the technology.

What do you think about all this? Share your thoughts in the comments.

soundoff (1,645 Responses)
  1. Used Forklifts


    May 6, 2021 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Cartas de Tarot Grátis

    Helpful information. Fortunate me I discovered your
    website unintentionally, and I am shocked why this coincidence didn't came about earlier!
    I bookmarked it.

    May 7, 2021 at 03:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Forklift Maintenance Los Angeles


    May 7, 2021 at 05:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Forklift Maintenance Shop

    That is a good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere. Short but very precise info… Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read post!


    May 7, 2021 at 05:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. rv camping in orange county ca


    May 7, 2021 at 06:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. connor cook jerseys

    I could not resist commenting. Perfectly written!

    May 7, 2021 at 07:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. fun things to do near me


    May 7, 2021 at 07:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Forklift Maintenance Shop Near Me

    Your style is unique compared to other people I have read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I'll just book mark this page.


    May 7, 2021 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Brewery Boise


    May 7, 2021 at 08:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Forklift Dealer Orange County

    Your style is very unique in comparison to other folks I have read stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this site.


    May 7, 2021 at 10:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. couch upholstery repair near me


    May 7, 2021 at 10:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Red Ale Beer

    Very good info. Lucky me I recently found your blog by chance (stumbleupon). I have bookmarked it for later!


    May 7, 2021 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Used Forklift Repair Shop California


    May 7, 2021 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. cars for sale near me

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Very well written!


    May 7, 2021 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. visit

    A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment. I do
    believe that you ought to write more about this subject, it may not be a taboo
    subject but usually people don't discuss these issues.
    To the next! Many thanks!!

    Here is my blog visit

    May 7, 2021 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. joker gaming

    What's up, its pleasant post regarding media print,
    we all be familiar with media is a wonderful source of facts.

    May 7, 2021 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. barber shops near me


    May 7, 2021 at 18:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. rv windshield repair near me

    Good write-up. I definitely love this website. Continue the good work!


    May 7, 2021 at 20:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Click Here

    You really make it seem really easy with your presentation but I to find this matter to
    be really one thing that I feel I might by no means understand.
    It seems too complicated and extremely extensive for me.
    I'm having a look ahead on your subsequent post, I'll attempt to get the hold
    of it!

    Here is my web blog: Click Here

    May 7, 2021 at 22:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Social Media Marketing Association

    I enjoy reading through an article that can make people think. Also, many thanks for allowing me to comment!


    May 7, 2021 at 23:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. trailer services near me

    That is a great tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere. Short but very accurate information… Thank you for sharing this one. A must read article!


    May 7, 2021 at 23:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. also on

    Great web site you have got here.. It's hard to find high-quality writing
    like yours nowadays. I seriously appreciate people like you!

    Take care!!

    Review my blog: also on

    May 8, 2021 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Content Marketing Agency Near Me

    Hi, I do think this is a great website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I'm going to revisit once again since i have bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide others.


    May 8, 2021 at 00:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. also on

    What's up to all, how is everything, I think every one is getting more from this site, and your views are good for new users.

    Here is my homepage :: also on

    May 8, 2021 at 00:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Content Marketing Reviews

    It’s hard to come by well-informed people about this topic, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks


    May 8, 2021 at 01:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Digital Marketing Masters


    May 8, 2021 at 02:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Content Marketing Specialist


    May 8, 2021 at 03:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Social Media Marketing Experts


    May 8, 2021 at 03:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Content Marketing Agencies


    May 8, 2021 at 03:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. west hills collision center

    I have to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site. I really hope to view the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my very own site now 😉


    May 8, 2021 at 04:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Seo Marketing Orange County

    After looking over a handful of the blog articles on your site, I truly appreciate your technique of blogging. I book marked it to my bookmark webpage list and will be checking back soon. Please check out my web site too and let me know how you feel.


    May 8, 2021 at 06:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Social Media Marketing Pro

    I would like to thank you for the efforts you've put in writing this blog. I really hope to see the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own, personal website now 😉


    May 8, 2021 at 09:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Local Marketing Ideas


    May 8, 2021 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Social Media Marketing Pictures


    May 8, 2021 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. buy chloroquine phosphate

    chloroquinne https://chloroquineorigin.com/ malaria drugs list

    May 8, 2021 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Content Marketing Boutique

    I must thank you for the efforts you've put in writing this blog. I'm hoping to see the same high-grade content from you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my very own site now 😉


    May 8, 2021 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Social Media Marketing Company Irvine

    It’s hard to come by knowledgeable people about this topic, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks


    May 8, 2021 at 13:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. class c renovation

    I love reading through an article that can make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!


    May 8, 2021 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Movies

    We stumbled over here by a different webb address and thought I might chrck things out.
    I like what I see so now i'm following you. Loook forward to looking over your web page
    yet again.

    May 8, 2021 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Video Marketing Service

    I'm very happy to find this web site. I want to to thank you for ones time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely loved every part of it and I have you book-marked to check out new information on your web site.


    May 8, 2021 at 18:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. RV Interior Remodeling California


    May 8, 2021 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Local Marketing Consultants

    I was excited to discover this great site. I want to to thank you for ones time just for this wonderful read!! I definitely appreciated every little bit of it and i also have you book marked to see new things on your blog.


    May 8, 2021 at 19:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Digital Marketing Specialists

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this post plus the rest of the website is extremely good.


    May 9, 2021 at 05:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Internet Marketing Reviews


    May 9, 2021 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. RV Bay Doors Near Me


    May 9, 2021 at 15:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Internet Marketing Help


    May 9, 2021 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Digital Marketing Consultant Near Me

    This is the perfect site for anybody who would like to understand this topic. You realize a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really would want to…HaHa). You certainly put a new spin on a subject which has been discussed for a long time. Wonderful stuff, just great!


    May 9, 2021 at 16:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Social Media Marketing Santa Ana


    May 9, 2021 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Content Marketing Help


    May 9, 2021 at 20:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Video Marketing Jobs

    I absolutely love your blog.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you create this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as I’m wanting to create my own blog and would like to find out where you got this from or what the theme is called. Thanks!


    May 9, 2021 at 21:10 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Leave a Reply to Inocencia Conney


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.