Genetic tests inadvertently expose cases of incest

 New genetic tests that map out a person’s entire genetic code can help explain the causes of a child’s birth defects or developmental delays, but some unpleasant family secrets are being revealed in the process. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston recently started using tests like this and have exposed several cases of probable incest, according to Dr. Arthur Beaudet, chairman of molecular and human genetics at Baylor, who wrote about the problem in the journal Lancet last week.

The tests, called single nucleotide polymorphism-based arrays, allow doctors to scan a child’s genetic makeup for extra or missing copies of genes that could explain disabilities. However, they can also show large, identical blocks of DNA that a child may have inherited from two closely related relatives, such as a father and daughter, raising legal and social issues that institutions and the scientific community must address, Beaudet told Reuters.

"The concern mainly stems from the possibility of children being sexually abused in the home, most often girls between 12 and 16 years of age," he said. Disabilities are prevalent in children born of incestuous affairs. In years past, doctors might have suspected a child was the product of incest, Beaudet said. “Now we have a routine test that we do in children with disabilities that makes it obvious." Doctors in the US are ethically and legally bound to report cases of suspected child abuse to authorities. "Most often we don't really suspect it and the lab result come as a surprise," Beaudet said. ~ Reuters, Feb 10

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