‘Gattaca’ in real life? Reproductive startup claims it can sequence 99% of embryo’s genome

A new assisted reproductive technology (ART) startup aims to let parents test their embryos for birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, chromosomal abnormalities, and more before starting the in-vitro process fertilization (IVF).

The company, called Orchid, announced that it is launching the first commercially available full genome sequencing report for embryos, which it says will allow parents to know whether their preborn children have genetic risks used to be seen only after birth.

“This is a huge advance in the amount of information parents can get,” Noor Siddiqui, founder and CEO of Orchid, told CNBC. “The way you use that information is really up to you, but it gives more control and confidence to a process that, for the entirety of history, has been left entirely to chance.”

Orchid claims it can sequence 99% of an embryo’s genome, while current tests can only test .25% by comparison. Currently, it costs $2,500 per embryo and is only available at IVF clinics in major cities, but can be done on request.

READ: ‘Hipster eugenicist’ couple hope to produce real-life ‘Gattaca’ babies through genetic screening

This trial, however, brings the world one step closer to a ‘Gattaca’-like reality where children are screened for “undesirable” conditions and then robbed of their chance to live based on in the results. Today, these embryos — actual people — are traded and treated like commodities, and testing like the one Orchid offers only furthers that idea.

Roshan George, a parent who had her embryos tested through Orchid, said they used Orchid to find out that two of their three embryos were “healthy,” though it was not specified what conditions led to the third embryo. labeled as “unhealthy.”

George and his wife are both carriers for nonsyndromic hearing loss, so hypothetically, the third embryo may have been impaired, leading to that particular child being unwanted and labeled as not deserving of a chance to live. “Just having some level of certainty — you’re going to make sure they’re not sick when they’re born and all that kind of thing — it’s a huge amount of anxiety that’s taken away,” George said.

Instead of being treated as people with an inherent right to life, embryos are treated like cars that need to be taken on test drives before being purchased. This kind of dehumanization is common in the largely unregulated reproductive technology industry.

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