More on Personal Genomics

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky March 26, 2008
Biopolitical Times
New types of community?

For a front-page Washington Post article on the burgeoning - and completely unregulated - personal genetic testing industry, Rick Weiss gathered some real howlers. Here's a quote from Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe:

"We envision a new type of community where people will come together around specific genotypes, and these artificial barriers of country and race will start to break down."

Weiss also includes some zingers, in a far more sober register. He writes,

"One subtle but potentially insidious downside of the new trend, [director of the National Human Genome Research Institute Francis] Collins said, is that people may slip into the DNA-deterministic thinking that fed the early 20th-century eugenics movement, in which people with `undesirable' traits underwent forced sterilizations."

Collins continued:

"I very much worry that all this emphasis on a 'gene for this' and 'gene for that' raises the risk that people will conclude that that's the whole story."

Collins has also addressed these concerns in a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, co-authored with W. Gregory Feero and Alan E. Guttmacher. "The Genome Gets Personal - Almost" concludes this way:

There are many rapid advances in personalized medicine to celebrate. But if the goal is to empower [patients] to take full advantage of these discoveries, it is far too early to declare victory. A great deal of complex, groundbreaking, and multidisciplinary research is still needed before personal genomics reaches the mainstream of medicine.