More of the Same

Posted by Osagie K. Obasogie October 24, 2008
Biopolitical Times
Last month, I posted on 23andme’s new low price for partial genome sequencing while fellow Biopolitical Times blogger Marcy Darnovsky commented on what she calls trickle down genomics: the use of celebrity spit parties and other marketing schemes featuring society’s elite that are designed to encourage the masses to take up recreational genetics.

While these developments seemed a bit quirky at the time, falling prices and celebrity endorsements are likely to be trends that are here to stay. Since these initial blog posts, Complete Genomics has announced that they will soon be able to map a person’s entire genome for $5,000 – a fraction of the current $350,000 price tag for full genome scanning.

Moreover, the trickle down approach has been taken up by the Personal Genomics Project (PGP), a new venture that the New York Times describes as “speed[ing] medical research by dispensing with the elaborate precautions traditionally taken to protect the privacy of human subjects.” The project hopes to have 100,000 volunteers make their genomes and other types of personal information publicly available – what the NYT describes as “from food preferences to television viewing habits” – to help genomic technologies become more accurate in linking genetic predispositions to social and health outcomes. Project organizers hope that by culling early volunteers from the well heeled – including commentator Esther Dyson and Harvard’s Steven Pinker – the privacy concerns connected with publicizing one’s genetic makeup will eventually seem frivolous.

Will this come to pass? And is this approach to privacy and genetics a good thing?