Should Parents Get Their Kids Genome Sequenced?

I just read a terrific series at Time.com about kids and DNA. One of the more intriguing questions posed was: Should you get your child’s genome sequenced? 

The idea might not seem far-fetched. We hear more and more about how genes predict whether or not we will get a disease. So why not have your child’s genome screened for disease genes?

Well, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind (without even thinking about cost or ethics):

Your child’s DNA was probably already screened for major disease genes (really big ones that have severe effects on development) when they were born.

Outside of those genes (there’s probably less than 100 of them), most genetic markers are really not that informative. They give you some sense of increased risk for a disease – but a whole host of environmental factors undoubtedly contribute as well. This is especially true for “common” diseases – like most of the behavioral and emotional disorders of childhood. The fact is for common disorders a fairly high proportion of the population carries some risk genes. So without the ability to offer more specific prediction (as is the case with some of the more rare genes that convey risk for breast cancer, the gene responsible for Huntington’s Disease, etc), it’s not really clear that DNA – right now – holds that much information on your child’s future in terms of common diseases that are influenced by both genes and environment.

Of course, the most important piece of information you would hope to get is not just if your child carries a gene, but what you could do to prevent disease onset. Outside of trying to reduce obvious risk factors that you would want to reduce anyway (e.g., if your child is at risk for diabetes, you would want to monitor their diet very carefully – but you want to do that anyway), there’s not much “genome-tailored” intervention out there.

The fact is that the more we learn about DNA, the more we realize that the landscape is even more complicated than we thought. Unless you think your child is at genetic risk for a disease, and unless there is a powerful genetic screen that carries real information that can inform and direct future behavior, there’s not much practical utility right now to sequencing your child’s genome.

DNA Fingerprinting via Shutterstock.com

 

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