Berkeley Adopts Controversial Genetic Testing Program

by jeeg 19. May 2010 18:49

Instead of the usual required summer-reading book, this year’s incoming freshmen at the University of California, Berkeley, will get something quite different: a cotton swab on which they can, if they choose, send in a DNA sample. The university said it would analyze the samples, from inside students’ cheeks, for three genes that help regulate the ability to metabolize alcohol, lactose and folates.Those genes were chosen not because they indicate serious health risks but because students with certain genetic markers may be able to lead healthier lives by drinking less, avoiding dairy products or eating more leafy green vegetables. Berkeley’s program for the class of 2014 is the first mass genetic testing by a university. Jasper Rine, the professor of genetics who is leading the project, said it was designed to help students learn about personalized medicine and identify their own vulnerabilities....The testing will be voluntary and confidential, with no one at Berkeley knowing which sample comes from which student....But some bioethicists say the whole idea of genetic testing outside a medical setting is troubling.“It’s a bad precedent to set up mass testing without some sort of counseling support,” said [a bioethicist]. “I’d rather people get their results in a medical setting, where they can ask questions about the error rate or the chances of passing it on to their children, and not just see it posted on some Web site.” [A university spokesperson] said that he understood the concern about counseling but that he believed it applied mostly to testing for genetic diseases, not necessarily the relatively innocuous gene variants that Berkeley is looking for....Berkeley has not yet chosen a company to analyze the DNA samples....Estimates are $35,000 to $40,000 per 1,000 samples.

Abbreviated from NY Times Coverage by Tamar Lewin

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