By CRG Staff

from GeneWatch 27-2 | May-July 2014

The company deCODE Genetics has for years been gathering genetic information from as many Icelanders as it can in order to build a bigger, better research database made up of a homogenous population. The company has been working on this since the 1990s, when with the backing of the Icelandic government it secured access to the medical records of nearly all Icelanders. Having faced a number of roadblocks and setbacks since then - including bankruptcy proceedings - deCODE, now owned by U.S. biotech company Amgen, is still looking for new ways to get its hands on Icelanders' DNA.

As part of its most current push to gather DNA samples from another 100,000 Icelanders - nearly a third of the country's entire population - deCODE has recruited ICE-SAR, the Icelandic Search and Rescue organization. In mailings sent to homes across Iceland, the company promises that if it reaches its goal of 100,000 samples, it will donate over $1.7 million to ICE-SAR. In return, the search and rescue organization is acting as couriers for those who agree to donate their DNA, literally showing up on the donor's doorstep to collect the sample.

Responding to complaints of couriers showing up at the homes of Icelanders who hadn't agreed to donate their DNA, deCODE admitted in a statement:

It is true that in some instances during the first day of the effort the volunteers knocked on people's doors earlier than desirable although they were carefully instructed not to ask people to make up their mind, only to ask them whether they already had done so. This happened because the mail service we used did not deliver the envelopes in time.

In a blog post republished by Slate, Icelander Alda Sigmundsdóttir reports that deCODE is also offering payment to DNA donors ... sort of. In addition to the public service of aiding medical research and deCODE's promise to donate about $17 to ICE-SAR for each DNA donor, the company will also send each donor a T-shirt.

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