With the help of the Personal Genetics Education Project’s Dana Waring Bateman, I have teamed up with Dr. Chris Korey at the College of Charleston. Both of us are teaching mavericky, genomicky classes this semester and Chris asked if his students could post on genomeboy in response to a series of questions he and Dana developed regarding the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis to select for or against particular traits. “Anything to crowd out the spam,” I told him. I have modified the questions slightly to make them a bit bloggier.
- When we select for or against a trait, does it change how we as a society view that trait?
- How will the proliferation of sequenced personal genomes change our thoughts on what constitutes a disability? Or will it?
- How and whether genetic and genomic information ultimately leads to the expression of human traits remains unclear. How should that affect our use of this technology?
- Should the government restrict the use of this technology for positive and/or negative selection? Why or why not?
- Is PGD a good idea? Make your case.
I confess I haven’t thought a whole lot about PGD, but I will say this: I see the emergence of this technology as inevitable and I think any attempts to ban it or drastically curtail it will fail. If parents want to select for or against a highly penetrant mendelian trait and they can’t do it in the US, they will go to China or Russia or the Cayman Islands or the UK. And it will only get cheaper. Thus, I think it would behoove regulatory agencies to get off their patooties and try to figure this out. The time for hand-wringing is long past.
Having said that, I worry about what we don’t know regarding the epigenetic effects of PGD and other assisted reproduction technologies. When we’re tiny balls of cells, we are extremely vulnerable. When we mess with a preimplantation embryo’s environment, we are likely to alter that embryo’s patterns of cell division, gene expression and/or morphology.
UPDATE: Will Saletan discusses the advent of increasingly sophisticated prenatal testing and its implications.
Please have at it in the comments.