Monday, March 17, 2008

Personal Genotyping

Okay, this is pretty cool, in a "The Future is Now", and a "I have a bad feeling about this" kind of way.

Check out this blog by Mike Spear, publicist for Genome Alberta. Spear's blog talks about buying a home genotyping kit at Best Buy, and two rather more expensive kits from the Internet, to examine his personal genome. He did the swabs today, and has sent the sealed test tube(s) off to the lab(s), and in due course will be told his genetic medial history. He'll then record in his blog how the process went, which kit gives the best results, and so on. His hope is not merely to compare the three services, but to have the scientists and ethicists he works with comment on the whole process to help work through the implications of all this.

In a CBC radio interview this morning, Spear's raised a few of the more obvious issues:

if the results come back that he has a genetic predisposition for prostate cancer or memory loss, will he then become obsessive about looking for symptoms? Or is this a useful heads up? Or will the public confuse genetic predisposition and test results to think that they need prostrate surgery right now? Or that they are safe from obesity, or whatever, because they don't have the predisposition?

At the moment, unless he takes the results to his doctor and allows them to become part of his medical records, Spear's genome analysis is private and insurance companies can't ask for tit. But Spear's raised the concern that in five years, such testing could be routine requirement for insurance -- what insurance company is going to take you (at least without gigantic premiums) if your genetic profile suggests you may develop cancer? Same for employers, etc. This is definitely scary stuff.

And then, coincidentally, I was listening to bit from the Comedy Factory podcast where they talked about a dating service that did genotyping on its clients -- so you could tell if you were about to date your long lost cousin, and more likely, so that you could tell if your genes were compatible. But besides questioning just how much one's compatibility could be determined by genetics, the commentator made the rather chilling point that sending one's DNA for analysis in the states is maybe not the best idea. Since the Patriot act allows the government there to look at any information in any American company's data base.... well, you can see the problem.

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