The pros and cons of direct to consumer genomics

I was only able to briefly duck into the roundtable on genomics that took place in Wellington today, but the fragments of discussion I listened in on were fascinating to say the least.

We’ve all heard of 23 and Me, the San Francisco-based company that allows you to set up your own genetic test via the internet, a process that involves you couriering a sample of your saliva to the US for analysis to determine whether you are genetically predisposed to certain conditions.

Well, companies like that are at the public face of genetic testing technology and to a large extent have molded the public’s perception of how genetic testing technology has advanced.

Martin Kennedy, a geneticist at the Carney Centre for Pharmacogenomics at the University of Otago, said the immediacy of such services raised all sorts of issues for individuals and families using them, but had done a lot to boost the profile of this type of research.

“For all their ills, these companies are having a huge impact on public awareness,” he said.

Kennedy also talked about the 1000 Genome Project, an international effort to sequence the genomes of 1000 people worldwide to expand the map of human genetics, something that is hoped will help speed up the doscovery of the genetic roots of many diseases.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson gave a short speech on opensource genetic material, IP rights to genetic subject matter, gathering DNA samples and patenting genetic discoveries.

Listen to the podcast on the Science Media Centre website. Credit to the people behind the Human Genome Research Project for putting on yet another thought-provoking event.

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