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Brave New Embryology

Credit: Mopic/Adobe

After 30 years of IVF, only around 25% of the embryos created have the capacity to develop to term. Credit: Mopic/Adobe

By Chris O’Neill

New technologies are being developed to improve fertility, but the effects on the embryo are uncertain.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

The development of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) for the treatment of infertility has opened up new and unexpected methods of alleviating disease. Creating embryos in a test tube allows the diagnosis of most known genetic conditions within days of fertilisation, and new gene editing techniques offer the prospect of correcting these conditions.

While this brings great hope, it also prompts fears of genetic manipulation for non-medical reasons, unintended biological consequences for the child, and even consequences across successive generations. For example, evidence suggests that the manipulation of gametes and early embryos may cause maladaptive errors in the programming of normal gene expression, leading to an increased burden of life-long chronic diseases.

The pace of innovation is breathtaking, yet our knowledge of the underlying biology may be too immature to allow the confident prediction of all outcomes. Future research must focus on these perceived risks, as well as the technical innovations.

Genetic Manipulation of the Embryo

Genetic diagnosis in the pre-implanted embryo is a widely used technology. The microsurgical biopsy of a small number of cells from the embryo in the test tube allows most genetic information to be retrieved. The diagnosis of common genetic conditions, as well as determining the sex of the embryo, allows couples...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.