The Promise and Peril of Newborn Genomic Sequencing

January 16, 2015

Professor Steven Brenner featured in Breakthroughs Magazine

By Sally Lehrman

Like many other parents, Steven Brenner decorates his Koshland Hall office with colorful drawings in a child’s hand. On his desk, propped up alongside the phalanx of computers, are sunflowers, a bird, and a paper plate transformed into an orange pumpkin with crooked eyes. And as with other parents, too, a key moment from Brenner’s children’s births is seared into his brain. “It’s definitely very traumatic to have someone come and poke holes in the little baby’s foot,” he recalls, grimacing.

Brenner, a professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, heads up the computational genomics portion of a five-year research program that may deeply influence how states use that heel prick, the first step in newborn screening. While a baby may appear healthy, a hidden metabolic disorder may quickly rob her of her vigor. Most state public health departments check the infant’s blood after the first day of life to see if something is dangerously wrong. However, as genome sequencing becomes faster and cheaper, the push is on to unravel a baby’s entire DNA code instead.

Read the full article Bringing up Baby by Sally Lehrman on the College of Natural Resources website.