Curious Father Decodes His Unborn Son's DNA

Geneticist Razib Khan sequenced the entire genome of his unborn son. He tells NPR's Don Gonyea why he mapped the gene sequence and what he found: For instance, his son probably won't be a picky eater.

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DON GONYEA, HOST:

Couples awaiting the birth of a child face a lot of unknowns. Boy or girl? Will they be healthy? Advances in genetic testing allow parents to know more than ever. But current tests generally target a single medical condition. It's only recently that the genes of a fetus have been completely genotyped.

Razib Khan, the father of a new baby boy, took it upon himself, out of curiosity, to learn his son's DNA code before he was born. Razib is a blogger and a Ph.D. candidate studying evolutionary genetics at the University of California, Davis. He joined us from member station Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. I asked him why decipher his unborn son's entire genetic makeup?

RAZIB KHAN: Basically, the most important thing in my life, ever, has been my children. And so when we knew we were going to have another child, I wanted to know as much as possible about that child. And the sequence basically took that to its logical limits, in terms of genetics.

GONYEA: How easy or how difficult was it for you to make this happen?

KHAN: There's really not a roadmap for this for new parents or expectant parents. And so I faced some opposition, but, frankly, more confusion, in terms of people who didn't really understand why I would want to do this or, you know, what the protocols were for getting the tissue back or getting the sequencing done and this sort of thing.

GONYEA: But as you know, the gathering of this kind of information is controversial. Some parents might see the results, and it might force them into some very difficult decisions. It could, for example, lead some couples to maybe abort a fetus based on what they see.

KHAN: So what I would say to that is, I got his whole genome, right? That's the big thing. That's the revolutionary thing, I suppose.

But in the United States today, there are, I think, probably on the order of, like, tens of thousands - perhaps, hundreds of thousands now getting prenatal testing for things like Down syndrome. And, you know, from what I have heard, about 90 percent of those fetuses are terminated. So that's already happening. Like, what I did here doesn't change that.

GONYEA: So I understand that you learned a lot. Give me some sense of what your son's DNA code told you?

KHAN: So a lot of it was aesthetic traits or personal traits. So, for example, you know, my son has a reduced sensitivity to bitter tastes, which was something that I was extremely interested in because that's correlated with children not being picky eaters. And my daughter's the same way. So I was happy about that, you know, in terms of vegetables and whatnot.

There is a gene that is associated with reduced body odor, for example. And he actually happens to have both appropriate copies. You know, that's my prediction.

GONYEA: Razib Khan is the father who sequenced his son's DNA. Thanks for speaking with us.

KHAN: Thank you.

GONYEA: This is NPR News.

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