By Samuel W. Anderson

from GeneWatch 28-2 | June-Sept 2015


When researchers and companies in rich countries turn their attention to less-wealthy parts of the world, good intentions — or, for that matter, not-so-good intentions — can easily be undermined by a poor understanding of the local situation. Meanwhile, if you're a company or researcher purposely operating in countries with few regulations standing in the way of whatever you're trying to do, things may go very well for you, at least for a while. (See, for example: Monsanto in India; Shell in Nigeria; Apple in China.) But that freedom to operate — and responsibility to self-police — can get you into trouble.

Of course, the communities around you are likely to feel the negative impacts first. In this issue, Jessica Mozersky and Rayna Rapp write about non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), a technology used to calculate risk of certain fetal abnormalities. Medical societies are urging caution around its adoption, but a handful of private companies are going full speed ahead, particularly in the developing world; though it was first commercialized in only 2011, NIPT is already available in over 60 countries.

But the issues here go beyond concerns about doing "too much, too fast." Paul Billings points out that in most of these same parts of the world, potentially beneficial and even life-saving genomic technologies are only really available to a small subset of the population. As we might expect, equity of access often hinges on personal or family wealth, disparities which are particularly pronounced in much of the developing world. There are also stark urban-rural divides, and in many places, gender inequality can lead to severe differences in health care access.

Also in this issue, Carlos Andrés Barragán writes about how outside researchers use genomics to create their own "scientific" definitions of ethnicity in Latin America, and Christina González writes about how one Puerto Rican community may be turning that same genomic research around to declare their own self-identity.

As Billings writes in this issue: "Circumstances of birth and locale should not determine health or medical care." But if one is trying to understand an unfamiliar person or people, circumstances probably tell us much more than genomics ever could.


Samuel Anderson is Editor of GeneWatch.

Search: GeneWatch
Created in 1999 by the Council for Responsible Genetics, the Safe Seed Pledge helps to connect non-GM seed sellers,distributors and traders to the growing market of concerned gardeners and agricultural consumers. The Pledge allows businesses and individuals to declare that they "do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds," thus assuring consumers of their commitment.
View Project
The use of forensic DNA databases by law enforcement around the globe is expanding at a rate that should be of great concern to civil libertarians.
View Project