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British mum starts baking 'cancer-free' baby

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The UK's first made-to-order baby has sprouted in London, according to a report in The Times.

With the aid of genetics specialists, a woman has been able to make sure that her baby does not inherit a gene that might trigger a form a eye cancer. The lass - who has requested anonymity - and her husband are the first to tap a change in the laws around embryo screening. Previous rules dictated that mothers-to-be could only screen for genes guaranteed to lead to disease. In the case of the eye cancer, close to 90 per cent of the people with the gene actually get cancer, the paper reported.

"Although they did not have fertility problems, the woman and her partner created embryos by IVF," The Times said. "This allowed doctors to remove a cell and test it for the cancer gene, so only unaffected embryos were transferred to her womb."

The mother was treated at University College Hospital in London.

This area of genetic experimentation is not without controversy.

Plenty of people contend that it's wrong to filter out "tainted" embryos that may never develop the diseases later in life. In addition, doctors can now treat a number of the diseases being screened, and many of the babies would lead wonderful, fruitful lives before succumbing to illness.

On the other hand, you can, er, use the screening to secure a better chance of getting a baby without cancer.

You can expect the ethical questions around genetic engineering to increase in the coming years.

Researchers are currently on a Moore's Law type of path with regard to decoding the human genome. In 1989, for example, it cost close to $10 to read a single letter of genetic code. In 2005, researchers were able to churn out a letter of genetic code for just a tenth of a cent.

Similarly, scientists once doubted whether they'd be able to deliver an entire humane genome in their lifetimes. Now, centers such as the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California - near Silicon Valley - produce the equivalent of a humane genome per month.

At present, it would cost between $5m and $10m to have a lab produce a a version of your, unique genetic code. Increased automation in the decoding process and lower material costs should reduce that figure in the coming years.

You can read more in The Times here. ®

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