Yes! Genetic screens are incredibly useful in protecting and preventing babies from being born with hereditary diseases that sadly claim many new lives. Since the Human Genome Project identified and finished mapping out human DNA in 2003, the medical applications created from this wealth of data has tremendously changed obstetrics.
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The Anatomy of DNA
Most people will recognize the double helix shape of DNA which resembles a winding set of stairs. DNA has six individual molecules. A five-carbon sugar entitled deoxyribose, then the phosphate, and guanine, cytosine, adenine, and thymine make up the other four distinct components.
Imagine you are building a genome. Use the sugar and phosphate to create the central line as the nitrogenous bases are located in the center that is being held together in specific base pairs. Parents have two sets of every gene. If one gene is damaged or mutated it can cause illness or more likely mean that the individual is a carrier of that mutation.
Many people have mutated genes without presenting any outward signs of disease because the healthy gene in the pair prevents the illness from developing. The trouble begins when two people who are both carriers of the same mutated gene decide to procreate.
Why Race is Taking a Back Seat in Genetic Research
Humans share 90 percent of the same DNA. That means every person and animal on the planet has more in common with one another than we could have ever dreamed of. It makes racism and prejudice seem even more pointless. While on the other hand, every person’s genome is unique with more variations of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) that can connect to any of the found DNA bases.
DNA Divided by Race?
Current genetic research is placing less importance on DNA being divided by race and is much more interested in how the subsects of race vary in genetic behavior.
There are hereditary conditions that affect specific races and gene therapy has created a laundry list of tests and screenings to do everything they can to ensure babies are born healthy and strong.
For example, individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are susceptible to carrying genes for illnesses like Tay Sachs, Canavan, cystic fibrosis, familial dysautonomia, Gaucher, and Niemann-Pick disease. People of African heritage often carry the gene for sickle cell or diabetes.
Genome research has developed tests to screen for these genes in the potential parents and once a fetus is conceived there are further examinations to rule out these conditions.
Making Healthy Babies
It is vital to note the difference between medical genetic screens and commercial genetic tests. Consumer tests do provide key information concerning specific illnesses and conditions. These useful tools can help the person make an educated guess whether they want to foot the expense of a medical genome screening.
But before you buy a test check out the DNA Weekly website for an objective analysis of the tests and the companies who perform the work.
Genetic testing has made it possible for older parents to have healthy children by developing a battery of tests that begin before pregnancy and continue throughout gestation. Women over the age of 35 will be offered more tests due to the higher risks of pregnancy at more mature stages in life.
Genetics are Making Pregnancy Safer for Mother and Child
The first test post conception will occur before the woman is 10 weeks pregnant. A blood sample from the mother will identify the fetal DNA. The test is searching for any signs of a chromosomal abnormality.
Chorionic Villi Sampling
Older pregnant women will be urged to have Chorionic Villi Sampling (CVS) conducted between the tenth and thirteenth weeks during their pregnancy. A CVS test will take tissue from the placenta test for signs of aneuploidy.
The second genetic screen occurs between 12 and 14 weeks. This test is the Nuchal Translucency exam which offers high accuracy in spotting extra chromosomes during the first three months of pregnancy.
At 15 weeks to 23 weeks, doctors will schedule the Penta Screen to review the moms’ blood for warning signs of neural tube mal-construction and common trisomies. The following test is the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) which evaluates the fetal neural tube scanning for any defects.