This news story by Michael Le Page reports the findings from a study investigating the effectiveness of IVF embryo screening and selection on various traits, namely IQ and height. Genome sequencing of embryos has made it possible to identify the genetic variants that have an effect on these traits. A “polygenic score” for each embryo can then be created by summing up each set of genetic variants for each trait. As a result, IVF embryos can be chosen by prospective parents based on the polygenic scores associated with the traits they desire for their children.
Using a quantitative genetic model and GWAS data, the study found that the highest potential gain that could result from this method of embryo screening is an average of 3 cm in height and 3 IQ points. These findings suggest that polygenic scores are weakly indicative of resulting phenotype. An independent source - Frances Flinter, a clinical geneticist from the NHS Foundation Trust - is quoted in the news story as well. She states that embryonic screening assigns unfounded importance to genetic variants, due to their low predictive power. The researchers from the original study also found that in many cases, individuals with the highest polygenic score for height were in fact not the tallest in their family. Le Page reports these findings accurately, based on the results presented in the original article. No results are excluded, minimized, or exaggerated with the intention of creating a particular narrative, and every statement made in the news story is backed up by the study. The original paper from Cell, a highly reputable journal, is also linked at the end of the news story. It is, however, only available to readers for a fee, making it less likely for them to follow-up with the information presented in the article.
Additionally, Le Page remains unbiased and impartial throughout the news story, and this is especially highlighted when the future of embryonic screening is discussed. Shai Carmi, a researcher within the team behind the original study, believes that deeper research into these genetic variants will result in more substantial gains for these traits. Le Page presents an opposing view from Flinter, who believes that genetic variants will remain of minor importance, even with further advances in knowledge. By presenting an alternative perspective, Le Page maintains the neutrality of the news story.
In terms of accessibility with regard to the author of the article, Le Page has a short description of his career background and achievements available when his name is clicked. This description is followed by a series of his previously published news articles, publicly available on the website. While his email is not available, his Twitter account is also linked on this page.
Throughout the article, the vocabulary used by Le Page is generally easily accessible to readers of a website concerned with scientific news. Any terms that may be unknown, such as “polygenic score” and “genetic screening of embryos” are explained within the article. No sensationalist or fear-mongering language is used, and the language is not emotionally-charged.
However, there is still room for improvement in the news story. Areas of weakness include the presence of sponsored content on the news story’s page, as well as the lack of elaboration on the methods used in the investigation. The article was also lacking in its use of independent sources. Although Frances Flinter was interviewed for the story, more sources would have helped to reinforce the findings of the study.
In this news article by Michael Le Page, he outlines the study of using genetic screening for designer babies. He reports on the investigation of selecting certain embryos in IVF for desired characteristics such as intelligence and height, and if it actually makes a difference. Le Page gives no opinion of his own in this report, it is a fact-based piece that outlines the conclusions and future possibilities of polygenic scores found by the research of Shai Carmi at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Genetic screening allows geneticists to combine genetic variations in an embryo to create a polygenic score that contains the best possible scenario of genetic variations, the parents can then choose the embryo with the preferred polygenic score for implantation.
Carmi’s research disproves the idea that people can use polygenic scores to have particular characteristics in their babies. Carmi studied the results of selecting embryos that have the most favourable polygenic scores, and if they actually made a difference. He found that selecting characteristics such as height and intelligence at most increased the height of the child by three centimetres, and the child’s IQ by three points. Polygenic scores are not very predictable and having a high polygenic scores does not necessarily mean babies will have desired characteristics. The other problem with designer babies is that in reality people do not have that many surviving embryos and cannot always choose the characteristics they want.
Le Page also references Frances Flinter from Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in the UK, she claims that polygenic scores are not as predictive as people think, and that genetic variants are not the only thing that affects children, external factors affect them greater than their polygenic scores.
The article concludes that genetic screening is used best to look for negative inherited traits, rather than for making designer babies.
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