The Public’s Distrust of Biotech Is Deepening. Commercialization May Be to Blame.

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Close up of a baby's foot, when lying down, with a hospital tag attached to their ankle.

A cutting-edge study foreshadows what genetic science might bestow to human health, but the public is rightfully wary.

HARVARD MEDICAL GENETICIST Robert C. Green, reflective, cautious, and as decent as a scientist can sound, took to television last month to make people aware of an open trial at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which uses genomic sequencing to screen for variants that can predict 1,800 genetic conditions in newborns. The cutting-edge study foreshadows what genetic science might bestow to human health, but the more interesting takeaway is that the failure of the study to connect with the public — very few are enrolling — may signify a deepening distrust of biotech.

The BabySeq Project, of which Green is the co-director, is part of a $25 million effort funded by the National Institutes of Health, and has exemplified a vision perhaps best summed up by The New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade, who in 2006 quipped, “when genomes can be decoded for $1,000, a baby may arrive home like a new computer, with its complete genetic operating instructions on a DVD.”

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