The UK Government Wants to Sequence Your Baby’s Genome

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In November 2019, Matt Hancock, past the United Kingdom’s wellness secretary, unveiled a lofty ambition: to series the genome of each babe successful the country. It would usher successful a “genomic revolution,” helium said, with the aboriginal being “predictive, preventative, personalized wellness care.” 

Hancock’s dreams are yet coming to pass. In October, the authorities announced that Genomics England, a government-owned company, would person backing to tally a probe aviator successful the UK that aims to series the genomes of betwixt 100,000 and 200,000 babies. Dubbed the Newborn Genomes Programme, the program volition beryllium embedded wrong the UK’s National Health Service and volition specifically look for “actionable” familial conditions—meaning those for which determination are existing treatments oregon interventions—and which manifest successful aboriginal life, specified arsenic pyridoxine-dependent epilepsy and congenital adrenal hyperplasia. 

It volition beryllium astatine slightest 18 months earlier recruitment for participants starts, says Simon Wilde, engagement manager astatine Genomics England. The programme won’t scope Hancock’s extremity of including “every” baby; during the aviator phase, parents volition beryllium recruited to join. The results volition beryllium fed backmost to the parents “as soon arsenic possible,” says Wilde. “For galore of the uncommon diseases we volition beryllium looking for, the earlier you tin intervene with a attraction oregon therapy, the amended the longer-term outcomes for the kid are.”

The babies’ genomes volition besides beryllium de-identified and added to the UK’s National Genomic Research Library, wherever the information tin beryllium mined by researchers and commercialized wellness companies to study, with the extremity of processing caller treatments and diagnostics. The aims of the probe pilot, according to Genomics England, are to grow the fig of uncommon familial diseases screened for successful aboriginal beingness to alteration probe into caller therapies, and to research the imaginable of having a person’s genome beryllium portion of their aesculapian grounds that tin beryllium utilized astatine aboriginal stages of life. 

Whole genome sequencing, the mapping of the 3 cardinal basal pairs that marque up your familial code, tin instrumentality illuminating insights into your health. By comparing a genome to a notation database, scientists tin place cistron variants, immoderate of which are associated with definite diseases. As the outgo of full genome sequencing has taken a nosedive (it present costs conscionable a fewer 100 bucks and tin instrumentality results wrong the day), its promises to revolutionize wellness attraction person go each the much enticing—and ethically murky. Unraveling a bounty of familial cognition from millions of radical requires keeping it harmless from abuse. But advocates person argued that sequencing the genomes of newborns could help diagnose rare diseases earlier, amended wellness aboriginal successful life, and further the tract of genetics arsenic a whole. 

Back successful 2019, Hancock’s words near a atrocious sensation successful Josephine Johnston’s mouth. “It sounded ridiculous, the mode helium said it,” says Johnston, manager of probe astatine the Hastings Center, a bioethics probe institute successful New York, and a visiting researcher astatine the University of Otago successful New Zealand. “It had this different agenda, which isn't a health-based agenda—it's an docket of being perceived to beryllium technologically advanced, and truthful winning immoderate benignant of race.”