While the USA has introduced legislation banning discrimination based on genes, the UK still thinks it’s a good idea, but for “scientific” purposes. James Watson, the father of genetics, believes that sequencing your DNA will become routine within the next ten years.
He said that, as the costs of the sequencing technology tumble, doctors will be able to use the information to plan more effective treatments for conditions including mental illness, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
Professor Watson believes that having DNA sequencing on hand will help doctors in their diagnosis of disease at an earlier stage and enable physicians to advise their patients of the best course of action.
Using current technology sequencing a single person’s DNA takes 20 technicians around nine months. “In five years the hope is that you could reduce that to a week with just two or three people,” said Michael Jones, head of the genomics core lab at Imperial College London. “New technologies are trying to eliminate the technicians you need. The idea is you can take someone’s DNA and plug it into a machine and the data will come out.”
Just like Gattaca. It is difficult to be overjoyed at this when privacy concerns loom large over this entire technology. There is the benefit of knowing you carry one gene for a debilitating disease, such as cystic fibrosis, used in the article, and then be able to know if your potential spouse has the gene too. You could prevent having a child that would be subject to such a disease by choosing not to have children with that particular person. There is also the ability to catch diseases, such as breast cancer, however, the seemingly flippant attitude of scientists makes those with privacy concerns very nervous.
“A woman doesn’t test herself for BRCA1 unless there’s a history of breast cancer in her family. But when the cost comes down, just sequence yourself.”
Just sequence yourself. It sounds easy. It probably will be, but who is going to take care to keep that information private? Since this is being pushed in the UK, will the information be placed into a large database. Will it be kept private? Who will assure that your DNA sequencing won’t be used to deny you vital medical services or life insurance policies?
Prof Watson said genetics would help tackle mental illness. At his Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in the US, scientists have started a project to find the genetic root for every mental condition within 10 years.
Again, on the surface, it appears that this is a great new breakthrough. Imagine a world where we no longer need to see the mentally retarded, the downs syndrome, and those icky people like Steven Hawking. Are we really ready for a world where we only want perfect people with no defects? This technology, while great, has a large upside for abuse and we must be diligent in looking past our own temporary desires for perfect children and a world with no disease before we embrace personal DNA sequencing to solve all society’s ills.