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Studies Show Autistic Siblings May Not Share Genetic Makeup

As the number of children being placed on the autism spectrum continues to skyrocket, there has been a multitude of research done into the illness. While scientists have not found a definitive answer when it comes to the cause of autism, there have been promising studies done on this as well as treatment methods. Many theories suggest that there may be a genetic link when it comes to developing the disorder, especially when it involves siblings who are both autistic. But new research suggests that this link may not exist, a result that surprised many doctors and parents desperate for answers.

Researchers looked at the genetic material from 85 different families, all of which had two children with autism. Using an advanced process called, whole-genome sequencing, the team found that only 30% of the kids shared a gene mutation associated with autism. The rest of the families, around 70% of the participants, had completely different DNA. These kids were more different in their interests and mannerisms, just like average siblings.

This comes as a surprise to many as previous research had suggested that siblings who were both autistic must share the same genetic mutation. The most recent study is frustrating as it means that autism is even more complex and confusing that we already realized.  “We anticipated that, more often than not, there would be shared inheritance” in siblings, said lead researcher, Dr. Stephen Scherer of the University of Toronto. “That wasn’t the case.”

There have been various reactions to the study, with some other researchers believe the findings are promising while others are not quite convinced. Dr. Helen Tager-Flusberg of Boston University, who is also following a similar but larger genetic study, suggests that this information is obvious. “After you get over the surprise and think about it, we all know that the kids are different in these families,” Dr. Tager-Flusberg said.

On the flip side, Dr. David Goldstein, a professor of genetics at Columbia University, thinks the data may be skewed. With such a lopsided ration now, the larger study may change the numbers. Dr. Goldstein believed the first study, “used a quite liberal approach for variants relevant to autism, and the finding, while solid, may be less general than implied.” While this sentiment is shared by other experts, time will tell as whether this new information is a solid lead. Meanwhile, doctors and parents wait patiently to find out more answers to this complex and confusing disorder.

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