Gattaca becomes reality as scientists start to screen, abort human babies based on 3,500 ‘genetic faults
by: Ethan A. Huff
Monday, June 11, 2012
The popular 1997 science fiction film Gattaca portrays a futuristic world in which human beings genetically engineered (GE) with certain desirable and superior genetic traits are given preference to natural-born human beings who are considered inferior. And in just 15 years since the release of the film, this scenario has become a reality, as modern science has come up with a new way to test unborn babies for roughly 3,500 so-called genetic “defects.”
The U.K.’s Telegraph reports that a team of researchers from the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle has contrived a method of examining the genetic code of unborn babies via blood samples taken from their mothers, and saliva samples taken from their fathers. The tiny amounts of free-floating DNA present in both samples allow researchers to essentially map the entire genetic code of unborn babies and determine which genetic traits they will have upon birth.
Some babies are born naturally with “de novo” mutations, which are said to be linked to genetic defects such as Down syndrome and cystic fibrosis. These mutations are typically not passed down from parents to their children, and are instead acquired in some other way, including potentially through vaccinations and toxic environmental exposures.
In 39 out of 44 tested cases, the UW researchers were able to accurately pinpoint prior to birth de novo mutations that would occur in babies after birth. And as the technology becomes widely available to parents in the near future, the ghastly scenario depicted in the movie Gattaca will evolve into an ever-present reality where the only unborn babies permitted to live and thrive will be those with “superior” genetic makeups.
“This work opens up the possibility that we will be able to scan the whole genome of the fetus for more than 3,000 single-gene disorders through a single, non-invasive test,” said Dr. Jay Shendure, lead scientist for the research published in the journal . His entire team, however, corporately added that “incorporating this level of information into prenatal decision-making raises many ethical questions that must be considered carefully within the scientific community and on a societal level.”