November 11, 2008

Decoding Culture: The Personal Genome Project And What It Says About Us

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If you could make your DNA available to the world, would you? Would you want to know what is inside of yo or would you be concerned about what might happen?

Such questions are no longer hypothetical. A recent article in The New York Times describes a new initiative known as the ways around them. Other people, particularly prospective employers, just might find their way to your profile and to everything about you. With a history like that, it’s not too hard to imagine why people would be comfortable with the level of transparency the Personal Genome Project requires.

These actions are our choices, and if we make them, we accept whatever consequences fall on us. But what we often forget is that our actions also affect other people. By exposing your own genetic information in the Personal Genome project, for instance, you also give potential information about all your children, siblings and other relatives. Granted, it reveals nothing definitive, but since they share your DNA, it does provide a starting point for people to guess what genes they could have.

Perhaps people will react like Dr. John Halamka’s daughter. Dr. Halamka is participating in the Project, but warned his daughter that it might negatively impact her dating life. A suitor might call off a relationship if he learned of a worrisome trait in her dad’s genome. Her response? “I wouldn’t want them as a boyfriend anyway.” Will others be as nonchalant? As with all radical scientific experiments, only time will tell.