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Letting the Genome Loose? No Biggie.

Announced today in the NYT, Harvard Medical School unveiled the first 10 participants in their Personal Genome Project.


Ranging from entrepreneurs to academics to healthcare execs, the goal of the project is to raise awareness about the possibility of personal genomes for everyone. However, the project’s lead researcher and participant in the first 10, George M. Church, is the first to say that they don’t have a clue what the social or psychological effects of such information will have: “We don’t yet know the consequences of having one’s genome out in the open.”

Well, perhaps a little more thought should have gone into that before these individuals–not randomly chosen–but chosen for their particular status or position–participated in the project. These persons may have the knowledge and resources about genetic information to make good decisions in the light of genomic revelations–but what about the average person? Will they?

The participants themselves, quoted in the NYT article, raised their own ethical concerns–yet they participated. Why? Curiosity? Support of the project? Or the belief that their genetic information will not be used against them? Someone should be asking these questions as the project expands to 100,000 people. These perennial questions and problems are not going to go away. The personal genome may be here, but no one seems to know for sure if it’s really a good thing.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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