Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Who Should Be Able To Read Your DNA?

DNA sequencing of a human genome (20-25 000 genes)was first achieved in 2003 by the Human Genome Project after 10 years of work and only 30 years after the first gene was sequenced (Bacteriophage MS2). At that time the dream was established that we would all be able to have our own genome sequenced and thus to be able to find out the sequence of all of our gene DNA. This would reveal a lot about what illnesses each of us are prone to, what we might develop as we age and in some cases hidden illnesses we may pass on to our children. 

USB memory stick - size genome sequencing device
Millions of us having our DNA sequenced seemed very unlikely back then, but now, 10 years further on we are about to start seeing that dream realised as genomes can be generated relatively quickly and cheaply. We can do hundreds in a few weeks to order. The NEXT improvement in sequencing technology promises to go a much further. A sequencing machine the size of a USB memory stick! Costing £600 each! A whole genome sequenced in a day! - all hold the possibility that everyone will be able to have the ultimate 'health screen' very soon - the technology claims to be ready by end of this year.

History has taught us the incredibly powerful technology that can massively influence our lives is also a potential hazard that must be controlled. Who should have access to your DNA sequence? Your health service? Your government? Your family (who have many of the same genes as you) Or just you? This is an ethical dilemma we have to consider and quickly.

This flood of information will need a whole new breed of supercomputer to analyse the information, and of course our clinical researchers stand to learn a huge amount from knowing what genes all of their patients have - many illnesses will be strongly influenced by the specific genes and their mutations carried by everyone.

We will also soon learn that under the skin we are all carrying mutations, we are all part of the huge genetic variation that gives us our individuality but also binds us together as the human race - far more in common with each other than we generally appreciate now.

The US government are starting to hold discussion with the public to try to come to a concensus to try to answer some of these questions. We are already debating the issues with our patients groups (Yahoo, Facebook) - feel free to join in!

Breaking news - have a look at this TV programme for a compelling examination of the effect genomic testing will have on our lives http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRz5M0WUkzo


Graham Atherton said...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Panel Seeks Input on Ethical, Privacy Issues in Genomics Research
On Tuesday, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues published a notice in the Federal Register seeking public feedback on the ethical issues involved in the large-scale collection of genome data

Read more: http://www.ihealthbeat.org/articles/2012/3/28/panel-seeks-input-on-ethical-privacy-issues-in-genomics-research.aspx#ixzz1qWBJnzWS

Graham Atherton said...

Worth looking at this TV programme - very thought provoking!


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