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GenePeeks: startup uncovers risky sperm bank matches

Posting in Science

A startup can help identify recessive diseases that might show up in the children of women and sperm-bank donors, Technology Review reports.

Sperm donors are already screened for a handful of genetic conditions, and recipients can choose donors based various other kinds of qualities. Within the next year, GenePeeks would like to offer clients a genetic-analysis service that can show how donor DNA would combine with the recipient’s DNA.

  1. A technology called DNA-scanning microarrays examine roughly 250,000 DNA bases in the genomes of donors and recipients.
  2. Then, based on how DNA is mixed and divided during egg and sperm formation, the company can compute thousands of virtual child genomes.
  3. Each of these virtual genomes can be analyzed for disease risks, and potential donors that produced virtual babies that inherited a genetic disease can then be excluded by the mother-to-be.

Who’s excluded will differ from client to client. "These donors might be perfectly good for another woman -- it is very specific to the combination of genes," says GenePeeks cofounder Lee Silver of Princeton.

For example, one defective copy of the cystic fibrosis gene isn’t enough to affect the offspring. But if two copies are passed on, the child will have the potentially fatal disease.

GenePeeks is in the process of building a genetic counseling team, and in the end, the only results that clients will see is a customized list of sperm donors, says CEO Anne Morriss. The company is still figuring out exactly how to handle some sensitive issues such as whether or not the company will tell participants they are carriers of genetic disease.

The service will likely cost less than $1,000.

[Via Technology Review]

Image via Wikimedia

— By on November 25, 2012, 12:39 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure