Better babies for the young

Referring to my last post, there is little doubt that one of the biggest growth areas of tomorrow’s world will be that of better, healthier children brought about by eliminating deleterious genetic variations, or mutations.  In this particular case, it is not so much that adult specialists have a firm grip on the field as that the field itself, depending on knowledge of genetic handicaps and diseases, is still quite new.

Why it is worth mentioning, however, as possibly being highly exploitable by young people, in order that they may not be excluded from what will be high earnings in future years, is that it depends more than anything else in dealing with vast amounts of DNA data, something in which young people are particularly adept at handling on their PCs and, before too long, immensely powerful smart phones.. Also, the friends of young people up to the age about 30 years, are of natural child-bearing age when they would particularly welcome expert advice as to any genetic risks they may be harbouring. A potentially large market of their services is already available.

Already identified are approaching 5,000 genetic diseases which have serious disabling effects on the growing foetus and which, at birth, may finally deliver a seriously handicapped child or even a normal-looking, apparently healthy child who may be attacked with a killer disease later in life. This is most poignant when a much loved and otherwise attractive and intelligent child is struck down with a brain tumour or some other cancer.

But almost everything that departs from a perfectly averagely endowed child — a large nose, or webbed fingers or clubbed ears — even though there’s no health risk, is due to a mutation which causes a less than perfect foetal development. As we have about 25,000 genes the human gene pool is likely to have many thousands of genetic mutations.

We could therefore list thousands of genetic mutations from the most serious diseases through to those which only have trivial effects on bodily appearance.  At present only the worst 100 ones of the former are detected and only then by fertilization of an egg with sperm in a laboratory — as in IVF clinics.  Plainly, because his is an expensive process, this can’t be done for all young couples who want a child but would also like to know whether they might produce a handicapped children between them.  This happens most frequently when  both the mother and mother carry a single copy of a particular defective gene and these match up during fertilisation.

We are all carriers of such single-copy mutations and the frequency of the mutation in each of us can vary between, say, cystic fibrosis, 1 in 200 (more frequent than that in some parts of the world) to 1 in 60,000 for galactosemia. Many trivial physical anomalies can be as frequent, say, as 1 in 10. while some extremely serious handicaps can be as infrequent as 1 in 200,000.  On balance, matching up is not something that prospective parents worry about too much. Nevertheless, if possible handicaps between any two people — already married or thinking of getting married — can be calculated with great precision once you have their complete DNAs then people are going to want to know, if the price of the service is not too great. This will be one of the new services whose jobs could  ‘de-protected’.

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