Synthetic Biology Could Bring a Pox on Us All

David Ewing Duncan The Next Best Version of Me: How to Live Forever David Kushner A Deadly Hunt for Hidden Treasure Spawns an Online Mystery Megan Molteni A New Lab Is Brewing Microbes to Create Makeup and Medicines The existence of the vials raised another chilling possibility: Could smallpox make a comeback? If these samples were left behind, who knows how many others could remain. The US maintains enough of the smallpox vaccine to protect all 328 million Americans. But in the decades since the disease was eradicated, scientists have discovered that several groups of people—those with HIV, pregnant women, newborns, and cancer survivors among them—are at risk for complications from the vaccine, such as heart inflammation and brain infections. …

Crispr Gene Editing Is Coming for the Womb

William Peranteau is the guy parents call when they’ve received the kind of bad news that sinks stomachs and wrenches hearts. Sometimes it’s a shadow on an ultrasound or a few base pairs out of place on a prenatal genetic test, revealing that an unborn child has a life-threatening developmental defect. Pediatric surgeons like Peranteau, who works at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, usually can’t try to fix these abnormalities until their patients leave their mother’s bodies behind. And by then it might be too late. It’s with the memory of the families he couldn’t help in the back of his mind that Peranteau has joined a small group of scientists trying to bring the fast-moving field of gene editing to …

‘Heartbeat’ Bills Get the Science of Fetal Heartbeats All Wrong

Last week, Georgia governor Brian Kemp—the narrow winner over Stacey Abrams in a contentious, sketchy election last year—signed into law a ban on abortions after more than six weeks of pregnancy. That made Georgia the sixth state to institute such a ban, and the fourth this year (Ohio’s elected officials put theirs in place in April), with seven more states kicking around the idea. It’s not even the most aggressive anti-abortion concept; the Alabama state senate is set to vote today on a bill that, if it became law, would make performing an abortion a crime punishable by up to 99 years in prison. They’re all part of a nationwide push, with more than 300 bills in 2019, to try …

Abortion Bans Create a Public Health Nightmare

On Friday, the legislature of Missouri passed a ban on abortions, among the most extreme of any state. It prohibits any abortions after eight weeks of gestation, putting it among the category of misleadingly named “heartbeat bills” that use fetal cardiac activity as a marker for … well, illegality, really. Like a law signed earlier last week in Alabama, the Missouri bill contains no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. That makes eight US states with similar extreme bans on their books—each vying to be the law that makes its way to the Supreme Court and overturns Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that made abortion legal in the United States. None of the restrictions have gone into effect, …

AI Could Scan IVF Embryos to Help Make Babies More Quickly

If a woman (or non-female-identifying person with a uterus and visions of starting a family) is struggling to conceive and decides to improve their reproductive odds at an IVF clinic, they’ll likely interact with a doctor, a nurse, and a receptionist. They will probably never meet the army of trained embryologists working behind closed lab doors to collect eggs, fertilize them, and develop the embryos bound for implantation. One of embryologists’ more time-consuming jobs is grading embryos—looking at their morphological features under a microscope and assigning a quality score. Round, even numbers of cells are good. Fractured and fragmented cells, bad. They’ll use that information to decide which embryos to implant first. It’s more gut than science and not particularly …

How Much Prenatal Genetic Information Do You Actually Want?

This story is part of a week-long series on reproduction, from preventing premature births to childfree Reddit. Most nights, talk around Kristin Hamann’s dinner table eventually turns to genetics. Her husband, Rodrigo Martinez, works for George Church’s whole genome sequencing company outside of Boston, so that’s hardly a surprise. When their 4-month-old daughter Julia started getting a rash on her face recently, Hamann wondered if maybe something in her own diet was triggering it. That’s when her husband, who had recently had all 6 billion base pairs in his genome sequenced, told her that he had a genetic variation that made him sensitive to gluten. Hamann stopped eating wheat and her daughter’s rash seemed to clear up. “For a first-time …

Single women are paying thousands to freeze their eggs but at what cost?

One cycle means paying up to 8,000 and the birth rate is just 18%. Despite this, women are increasingly choosing this route Growing numbers of women are choosing to freeze their eggs because they havent found the right partner yet but with the odds of conception so low, is it a waste of money? Egg freezing is a method of preserving a womans fertility so she can try to have children at a later date. It involves collecting her eggs, freezing them and thawing them later so they can be used in treatment. . Caroline Watson* was in her late 30s and had been single for three years when she started to seriously consider freezing her eggs. The clock was …

Fear, Misinformation, and Measles Spread in Brooklyn

By then, however, “the bomb had gone off,” Arroyo says. Measles is considered one of the most contagious diseases in existence. If a person with measles walks through a room with a hundred people who are not immunized, up to 90 of them will get the disease. The virus is spread through coughs and sneezes and lingers in the air for up to two hours. Some 122,000 ­people come through the Maimonides emergency room every year. The hospital, located in Borough Park, serves one of the most diverse patient populations in the country, from ultra-Orthodox Jews to immigrants whose first language might be Mandarin, Russian, Hindi, Punjabi, Arabic, or Uzbek. Many are working-class cab drivers, manual laborers, and restaurant workers …

It’s Either the Best Time or the Worst Time to Have a Baby

This story is part of a week-long series on reproduction, from prenatal testing to childfree Reddit. Reproduction is messy. The genetic swaps and recombinations that occur when gametes merge don't always happen perfectly. Babies don't arrive when scheduled. Even preventing reproduction can be complicated, as anyone who has ever wrestled with birth control can attest. That said, it’s arguably a better time than ever to have a baby. Prospective parents struggling with infertility can turn to IVF, or sperm and egg donation. But as the egg donor industry grows more sophisticated, the donors themselves are sometimes kept in the dark. Once a person becomes pregnant, they can take advantage of the extraordinary advancements in noninvasive prenatal testing to screen for …

What Happens When Reproductive Tech Like IVF Goes Awry?

It sounds like the setup to a bad joke: Three couples walk into a fertility clinic. But the punch line—what happened to those families at one Los Angeles medical facility in August 2018—is no laughing matter. The embryos from two couples hoping to conceive were mistakenly implanted into a third patient. That third woman and her husband, both of Korean descent, suspected that something was amiss when their two newborns didn’t look anything like them. DNA testing confirmed that Baby A and Baby B (as court documents called them) weren’t genetically related to either of the birth parents, or to each other—they were related to two other couples who had been seeking fertility treatments at the same clinic. The birth …

Pregnant? Step away from Google.

Being pregnant online isn't great.Image: vicky leta/mashable The excitement of finding out I was pregnant is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. My husband and I were overjoyed, on vacation, blissful and so, so excited to start a family. We had this little, personal secret. This tiny human just starting to grow in my body, and not even I could really feel it. And then the Googling began.  “My doctor won’t see me until I’m eight weeks along. Is that normal?”  “When does the chance of miscarriage decrease?” “What is a chemical pregnancy?” Hundreds and thousands of the same questions from soon-to-be parents appeared before my eyes with each new search. At first, that kind of immediate gratification brought me …

Synthetic Biology Could Bring a Pox on Us All

David Ewing Duncan The Next Best Version of Me: How to Live Forever David Kushner A Deadly Hunt for Hidden Treasure Spawns an Online Mystery Megan Molteni A New Lab Is Brewing Microbes to Create Makeup and Medicines The existence of the vials raised another chilling possibility: Could smallpox make a comeback? If these samples were left behind, who knows how many others could remain. The US maintains enough of the smallpox vaccine to protect all 328 million Americans. But in the decades since the disease was eradicated, scientists have discovered that several groups of people—those with HIV, pregnant women, newborns, and cancer survivors among them—are at risk for complications from the vaccine, such as heart inflammation and brain infections. …