9 Jun 2012

Genome of unborn foetus mapped

6:03 am on 9 June 2012

Scientists in the United States have mapped the genome of an unborn foetus, marking a significant breakthrough in genetic medicine.

As a result, researchers at the University of Washington say they will be able to screen a foetus that is only eight weeks old for thousands of genetic disorders with an accuracy of 98%.

Currently, the common procedure for pregnant women who want to check their baby for chromosomal abnormalities, known as amniocentesis, is a risky procedure which involves a very big needle.

But researchers were able to map the genomes of two foetuses by taking small pieces of DNA from the unborn child which were present in the mother's blood stream.

In addition to sequencing those pieces of DNA, they were able to sequence each of the parents to pull together the genome sequence of the child.

"We think it's a huge improvement. Many genetic screens that are done today require an invasive procedure," said researcher Jacob Kitzman.

The research is published in the Science Translational Medicine journal.