Tag: consanguinity

Bioethics Blogs

Missing Genes Point to Possible Drug Targets

Every person’s genetic blueprint, or genome, is unique because of variations that occasionally occur in our DNA sequences. Most of those are passed on to us from our parents. But not all variations are inherited—each of us carries 60 to 100 “new mutations” that happened for the first time in us. Some of those variations can knock out the function of a gene in ways that lead to disease or other serious health problems, particularly in people unlucky enough to have two malfunctioning copies of the same gene. Recently, scientists have begun to identify rare individuals who have loss-of-function variations that actually seem to improve their health—extraordinary discoveries that may help us understand how genes work as well as yield promising new drug targets that may benefit everyone.

In a study published in the journal Nature, a team partially funded by NIH sequenced all 18,000 protein-coding genes in more than 10,500 adults living in Pakistan [1]. After finding that more than 17 percent of the participants had at least one gene completely “knocked out,” researchers could set about analyzing what consequences—good, bad, or neutral—those loss-of-function variations had on their health and well-being.

Gene knockouts are expected to occur more frequently in certain countries, such as Pakistan, where people sometimes marry and have children with their first cousins. That makes it much more likely that a person carrying a loss-of-function gene variation will have inherited that same variation from both of their parents.

In the latest study, a team led by Sekar Kathiresan at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, Boston, turned to the Pakistan Rise of Myocardial Infarction Study (PROMIS) in hopes of finding more gene knockouts.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics News

In search of new kinship terms

I am really working above my paygrade here, but I propose a thorough revision of Lewis Henry Morgan’s classic text, Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family. Back in 1871 he identified six fundamental systems that languages have for classifying relatives: Hawaiian, Sudanese, Eskimo, Iroquois, Crow and Omaha. (English is regarded as an Eskimo-type language.) 

Of these six systems, the most complex is the one used in southern Sudan. Every possible relationship has a unique word to describe it, whether it is “mother” or “mother’s brother’s first son’s youngest daughter”.

In the course of probing research into kinship terms over the past 20 minutes I discovered that nowadays Morgan’s classifications are considered outdated. At least one more system has been discovered, the Dravidian system, and some languages add refinements like distinguishing between older brother and younger brother. Some Australian Aboriginal languages use the same terms of address for alternating generations.  

If you have got this far, you are probably getting a bit impatient.

My point is that we need a new burst of creativity to invent new words for relationships created by assisted reproductive technology. In this week’s newsletter, for instance, we have a biological mother acting as surrogate mother for her biological son. A couple of weeks ago, we reported a lesbian using her brother’s sperm to impregnate her partner. English is already poor in kinship terms. Can it possibly cope with the pressure of surrogacy and gamete donation or even gamete creation? 

We have reason to hope.

The roots of modern English are in Anglo-Saxon and (remotely) Latin.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

International Differences in Gamete Donor Limits

Khue Tran Minh Hua shows that concerns about consanguinity and intergenerational transmission of genetic disease are not the only reasons for low or high gamete donor limits.

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Over the last three months, I have been conducting research on the ways that gamete donor limits are governed around the world. The increasing use of assisted reproductive technologies raises concerns about whether there should be limits on the number of times one person’s reproductive material can be donated and used for another person’s reproductive purposes.

My research reveals that there are significant differences between countries in the number offspring that can be created from one gamete donor, or the number of recipients that can use gametes from a single donor. For instance, some countries, like the Netherlands, Germany, and India, have high limits, ranging from 10 to 25 offspring per donor, which allows people from these and other countries easy access to reproductive technologies. Others countries have very low limits; in Vietnam and Taiwan, donors can only provide eggs or sperm to one recipient. Still other countries, like Canada, have no legislated limits at all.

International University, Vietnam National University

International University, Vietnam National University

Despite the difference in limits between countries, where there are limits, they are often justified using the same arguments. Professional associations and legislatures making these guidelines and/or laws, state that the limits will prevent consanguinity (i.e., romantic involvement amongst people with common ancestors) and the intergenerational transmission of certain genetic disorders.

Though arguments about consanguinity and genetic disease are used to justify donor limits in the abstract, other practical issues appear to influence the significant differences in donor limits.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.