Posts Tagged ‘ genetics ’

Three-Parent Babies: The Way of the Future?

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

Test tube babiesUpdate (2/25/15): Parliament passed the bill on Tuesday, 2/24, making Britain the first country to officially embrace this three-parent IVF technique.

Early last year, we blogged about a fairly new and controversial IVF technique called the mitochondrial transfer procedure. The IVF technique allows a mother’s egg and father’s sperm to be fertilized along with another donor woman’s genes, essentially giving a baby genes from three parents.

The “three-parent” IVF technique benefited babies predisposed to genetic disorders because the donor’s genes (contained in donated mitochondria) could “cancel” out any defected genes. But naysayers were concerned about the ethics of gene manipulation and the morals of “customizing” a baby to fit certain specifications. (Think: Gattaca)

Despite the concerns, Britain became the first country to begin legalizing the IVF procedure. The House of Commons voted 382 to 128 to approve a bill that would make “three-parent” babies official in the U.K. A similar procedure was also created in the U.S. over a decade ago, and a few benefited from having three-parent genes. But the procedure was eventually banned, reports The Washington Post

Later this month, Parliament will vote on the bill. If it passes again, the IVF technique will be legal in Britain starting in October.

Sherry Huang is a Features Editor for Parents.com who covers baby-related content. She loves collecting children’s picture books and has an undeniable love for cookies of all kinds. Her spirit animal would be Beyoncé Pad Thai. Follow her on Twitter @sherendipitea

Baby Care Basics: When a Baby Has a Birth Defect
Baby Care Basics: When a Baby Has a Birth Defect
Baby Care Basics: When a Baby Has a Birth Defect

Photo: Test tubes indicating boy or girl babies via Shutterstock

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Math and Reading Skills Are Affected by the Same Genes

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

A point against the idea that there’s a good-at-math gene you’re lacking—scientists have discovered that many of the genes that influence a child’s math ability also impact their skill at reading. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, compared DNA and math and reading test results for nearly 2,800 12-year-olds in the UK, looking for DNA differences and how skills matched up.

Of course, there isn’t complete overlap (could that account for the lack of math or language prowess in an otherwise brilliant person?)—and the study authors also found that nurture can also play a role in whether your child becomes the next Einstein or Shakespeare.

“We looked at this question in two ways, by comparing the similarity of thousands of twins, and by measuring millions of tiny differences in their DNA. Both analyses show that similar collections of subtle DNA differences are important for reading and maths,” study author Oliver Davis, of University College London, said in a school news release.

“However, it’s also clear just how important our life experience is in making us better at one or the other. It’s this complex interplay of nature and nurture as we grow up that shapes who we are.”

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What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School
What Kids Like (And Don't Like) About School

Image: Kids at school by Pressmaster/Shutterstock.com

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Parents of an Autistic Child Often Decide Not to Have More Kids

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

A new study conducted by University of California researchers has found that parents who have a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often choose not to have more children, citing the energy, expense, and complicated logistics required to care for an autistic child.  More from HealthDay News:

In the study, a team led by Neil Risch of the University of California, San Francisco, looked at nearly 20,000 families in California. All of the families included a child with autism born between 1990 and 2003.

These families were compared to a “control” group of more than 36,000 families that did not have a child with autism.

Parents whose first child had autism were about one-third less likely to have a second child than parents in the control group, the study found, while parents who had a later-born child with autism were equally less likely to have more children.

The researchers also found that parents of children with autism were likely to continue having other children until the child with autism began showing signs of or was diagnosed with the disorder. This suggests that not having more children is a decision made by parents, rather than a reproductive problem, the study authors said.

According to Risch’s team, in calculating the risk to families of having a second child with autism, most prior studies on the issue have ignored the fact that many families with an autistic child may have already made the decision to stop reproducing. That means the real risk of having a second child with autism may be higher than has been generally thought, they noted.

So, in the new study, Risch’s team accounted for the decision by some couples to stop having kids after they had already had a child with autism. When that factor was taken into account, there was about a one in 10 chance that the parents of child with autism who did decide to have more children would have a second child with autism, the investigators found.

The study was published June 18 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“While it has been postulated that parents who have a child with [autism] may be reluctant to have more children, this is first time that anyone has analyzed the question with hard numbers,” Risch, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF, said in a university news release.

He believes that the “findings have important implications for genetic counseling of affected families.”

Study co-author Lisa Croen, an epidemiologist and director of the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, noted, “unfortunately, we still don’t know what causes autism, or which specific conditions make it more likely.”

And, she added, “We are hoping that further research will enable us to identify both effective treatment strategies and, ultimately, modifiable causes of the disorder, so parents won’t have to curtail their families for fear of having another affected child.”

Image: Boy at a playground, via Shutterstock

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Environment, Genes May Carry Equal Weight in Autism

Monday, May 5th, 2014

The environmental factors a child are exposed to may hold as much weight as genetics in predicting whether that child develops an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new British study.  More from Reuters:

Sven Sandin, who worked on the study at King’s College London and Sweden’s Karolinska institute, said it was prompted “by a very basic question which parents often ask: ‘If I have a child with autism, what is the risk my next child will too?’”

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggest heritability is only half the story, with the other 50 percent explained by environmental factors such as birth complications, socio-economic status, or parental health and lifestyle.

The study also found that children with a brother or sister with autism are 10 times more likely to develop the condition, three times if they have a half-brother or sister with autism, and twice as likely if they have a cousin with autism.

“At an individual level, the risk of autism increases according to how close you are genetically to other relatives with autism,” said Sandin. “We can now provide accurate information about autism risk which can comfort and guide parents and clinicians in their decisions.”

People with autism have varying levels of impairment across three common areas: social interaction and understanding, repetitive behavior and interests, and language and communication.

The exact causes of the neurodevelopmental disorder are unknown, but evidence has shown it is likely to include a range of genetic and environmental risk factors.

Image: Baby, via Shutterstock

What’s your toddler nutrition IQ?

Early Signs of Autism
Early Signs of Autism
Early Signs of Autism

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Pre-Pregnancy Diet May Affect Baby’s Genes

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

The types of foods a mother-to-be eats just before she becomes pregnant may have an effect on her baby’s genetic development–especially if there are nutritional deficiencies in the mother’s diet.  More from NPR on a new study published in the journal Nature Communications:

The study, published in Nature Communications, is the first to show that an environmental factor during the first few days of development can change DNA long term.

The researchers didn’t look at how these genetic changes affect overall fetal development or the baby’s health later in life. And they analyzed only six genes.

But there’s growing from other studies that similar types of genetic changes may help determine a child’s risk for some diseases, including diabetes, mental disorders and autism.

“Can diet affect other genes? What’s the biological impact of those [DNA] modifications? At the moment we don’t know the answer to those questions,” says nutritionist , who contributed to the study. “But subsequent research we have — and haven’t [yet] published — says it does matter.”

Now we’re not talking about altering the DNA code itself — you know, the building blocks of genes, the ? Rather, Prentice says the dietary effects he and his team have found seem to be changing whether genes are turned on or off in that earliest stage of embryonic development.

This on-and-off switch is controlled by decorating the DNA with a special tag, called . How much the six genes got tagged in the developing embryo depended on the levels of a few micronutrients in the mom’s blood at the time of conception, Prentice and his team found.

The team examined several B vitamins and nutrients associated with them. They couldn’t pinpoint exactly which ones were most important. But in general, when several of these nutrients, including vitamin B2, were at lower levels in mom’s blood, the six genes had less methylation.

“The vitamin levels [in all the women] weren’t way out of the normal range either,” Prentice says. “If you took the blood to your doctor, he would say they were normal.”

Image: Woman eating salad, via Shutterstock

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