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About Genetic Selection


Genetic selection procedures are done either on fetuses, through prenatal screening, or on embryos that are outside a woman’s body, through Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD).

PGD tests embryos for the presence of genetic sequences linked to a variety of conditions and characteristics. A cell is extracted from an embryo at its eight-cell stage and analyzed. Embryos with the selected characteristics can be implanted in a woman's uterus to develop into a child. The procedure does not appear to affect embryos’ or fetuses’ subsequent development, though more follow-up studies of children born after PGD are needed.


Frequently Asked Questions

Arguments Pro & Con

PGD was developed to allow couples at risk of passing on a serious genetic disease to have children not affected by it. Since its introduction in 1990, it has been most widely used to prevent the birth of children with conditions such as Down's syndrome, Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell, Huntington's chorea, and Cooley's anemia.

However, PGD is increasingly being used for other reasons. These include social sex selection, creating “savior siblings” who can provide bone marrow or other transplant tissues to sick older siblings, and selecting against embryos with genes correlated with late-onset and non-fatal conditions. Some clinics have even offered the technique for purely cosmetic traits including eye color, hair color, and skin complexion.

A newer variation of PGD, called Preimplantation Genetic Haplotyping, allows for many more genes to be tested, and for greater accuracy.

Many disability rights advocates, in particular, have been critical of PGD and prenatal screening. They point out that the definition of "disease" is to some extent subjective. Most support women’s right to decide whether or not to have a child at a given time, but are critical of basing this decision on the traits of the particular embryo or fetus.



God’s Red Pencil? CRISPR and The Three Myths of Precise Genome Editingby Jonathan LathamIndependent Science NewsApril 25th, 2016CRISPR is the latest platform in a 70-year-old "gospel of precision" used to justify moving quickly with new chemical and biological technologies, despite decades of disasters and unintended consequences.
AstraZeneca launches project to sequence 2 million genomesby Heidi LedfordNature NewsApril 22nd, 2016One of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies is partnering with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Craig Venter's Human Longevity to look for rare genetic differences between individuals.
Save the Mosquitosby Ashley DawsonJacobinApril 22nd, 2016We should fight Zika with better public health, not genetically modified mosquitos.
We Still Haven’t Found a Fountain of Youth in Our DNAby Brian AlexanderMIT Technology ReviewApril 21st, 2016The Cypher Genomics project has been attempting to identify genetic variants that contribute to longevity, but so far there's no smoking gun.
Scientists unveil the ‘most clever CRISPR gadget’ so farby Sharon BegleySTATApril 20th, 2016A new "base editing" method attempts to switch out individual letters of DNA (C to T; G to A), but it's usefulness and precision is unclear.
Gene-editing research in human embryos gains momentumby Ewen CallawayNature NewsApril 19th, 2016Experiments are now approved in Sweden, China and the United Kingdom.
More People Seek Genetic Testing, But There Aren't Enough Counselorsby Todd BookmanNPRApril 18th, 2016The field of precision medicine is facing a bottleneck: "Who will actually interpret and provide those results to patients?"
In IVF, Questions About ‘Mosaic’ Embryosby Kira PeikoffThe New York TimesApril 18th, 201620% of embryos have both "normal" and "abnormal" cells, generating false positive genetic test results, and questions among fertility clinics about whether to implant.
Identity, disability and the genomeby Felicity BoardmanBioNewsApril 11th, 2016It is vital that the voices of families living with the very genetic diseases to be targeted by germline gene editing are heard--it is their lives and stories that offer us the most valuable insights into what we stand to lose.
‘Buffer genes’ may protect these 13 people from rare genetic diseasesby Jocelyn KaiserScience/AAASApril 11th, 2016Analyzing DNA of 589,000 anonymous donors, researchers were unable to confirm that mutations were not simply genotyping errors, and could not contact the 13 people to verify they were healthy.
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