Reproductive Technology: How Far Do We Go?

Resources to Learn More

CRISPR Gene-Editing and Disabilities

While humans have practiced selective breeding of plants and animals for millennia, the development of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique has given scientists a potent new tool with which to edit genes by removing and inserting DNA segments with a high degree of accuracy and specificity. Researchers have been able to modify the Cas9 protein to recognize specific genes within a strand of DNA and remove and replace them. CRISPR has the potential to provide treatment options for nearly all genetically-based diseases. Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier are the researchers credited with the application of the CRISPR-Cas9 technique for use in genome editing.

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Male Contraception

With the arrival of “the Pill” in 1960, contraception in America became more accessible and safer. Other contraceptive options for women followed: intrauterine devices (IUDs), female condoms, hormone implants, and the ovarian ring. At present, there are as many as 11 contraceptive options for women. Meanwhile, contraceptive options for men remain limited, of which the condom and vasectomy are by far the most prevalent. While popular, each of those comes with its own problems. The condom fails approximately 16% of the time and vasectomies are difficult to reverse. There is currently no long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) available for men.

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Reproductive Technologies and Social Justice

The history of the development and use of reproductive technologies is more than a story of “miracle babies” born, and safe, effective birth control methods developed. It is a complicated, often painful history in which poor women, women of color, and other marginalized persons have been exploited in the development and use of those technologies, and also excluded from their benefits. In the United States, sterilization has been employed, at various points in the country’s history, to limit reproductive choices of several groups, including Native, Puerto Rican, and African American women, as well as women and men with mental illness or intellectual disability.

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Mitochondrial Transfer

Mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) is a recently created technology that promises the possibility of preventing genetic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)-related disorders being passed from parent to embryo. Of the 20,000 genes in the human nuclear genome, only 37 are found in the mitochondria. Furthermore, although mitochondrial DNA is prone to mutation, birth defects occur only above a certain threshold of mutations. MtDNA replacement therapy could prevent the roughly 4,000 birth defects that occur each year due to such mutations. Presently, two methods of mtDNA exist: the maternal spindle technique or MST, and the pronuclear transfer technique or PNT. Both techniques focus on separating the nuclear DNA from the faulty DNA in the mitochondria. After separation, the faulty mtDNA can be replaced by a donor’s healthy mtDNA. The use of this technique is sometimes described as producing “three parent babies,” because it requires mitochondrial DNA from a third individual.

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Gustie Virtual Book Club -  Read Frankenstein

Frankenstein book coverGustavus and St. Peter are featuring Mary Shelly’s classic Frankenstein as a Reading in Common experience in preparation for the upcoming conference. Join the virtual book club. Registration opens in June.

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