FACULTY MEMBERS at major universities such as the University of California at Berkeley learn early on to be very cautious before using students as subjects in any kind of research project.
Human subjects committees and review boards have been established at Cal to protect the rights and welfare of all participants in research conducted by university personnel. Because of potential lapses in the oversight process, however, red flags fly whenever even seemingly justifiable research projects are proposed using large numbers of university students.
So it was that predictable furor arose when the university's College of Letters and Sciences mailed DNA cheek swab test kits to all 5,500 incoming fall semester freshmen and transfer students. The research, to be managed by the biology department, will run genetic tests on the swabs to discover the individual student's tolerance for alcohol, folic acid and lactose.
Although the appropriate human subjects committees on campus approved the project, a bioethics debate - on campus and nationally - quickly arose as the proposal became public.
Although the test results from the swabs would be known in...