A new system can check sperm bank sperm to see if it will create bad genetic mutations when combined with any particular egg. ©iStockphoto.com
Worried that the sperm you got at the bank might not be up to snuff?
A company called GenePeeks says plans to offer a screening service within the next several months that would spot potential genetic problems.
While it's possible to sequence a genome and see if a donor has any genetic disorders, that doesn't always reveal whether or not a woman would produce a child carrying that disease. GenePeeks instead will look at the 250,000 bases in a genome, and then simulate the mixing and matching that would happen when the sperm fertilizes the egg. GenePeeks will use DNA microarrays, a technology that allows scientists to look at many genes in parallel.
Top 5 Scariest Bioweapons: Photos Since the analysis will see thousands of virtual genotypes, it's possible to pick up on the less-obvious combinations that cause disease. Ordinarily sperm donors are tested for disorders such as cystic fibrosis. But there are many others that only cause symptoms when both parents carry certain genetic mutations, and, even then, disease doesn't always occur.
That's because genetic diseases are not just a matter of whether someone carries a certain mutation, but also what happens when that mutation is combined with other genes. Sometimes mutations for a given disease don't cause many health problems because the effect isn't severe enough in that patient. Simply screening donors' genomes wouldn't reveal that.
GenePeeks won't be able to say that X donor's sperm will produce unhealthy children, but they will be able to create a sort of a scorecard of the likelihood that there will be a problem.
And unlike the visions of movies like Gattaca, GenePeeks also isn't trying to find a "perfect" match (whatever that might mean). It's designed to narrow the pool of donors, as well as offer more specificity. For example, a donor who has a mutation for a certain disorder might not be a match for woman A but would be perfectly fine for woman B.
The company raised $3 million in funding in early November.