By Samuel W. Anderson

Working on this issue made me start worrying - not about the issue but about me. As I was doing the background research, the same nagging thought kept coming up: I haven't had any formal schooling in genetics - in biology, even - since I was 20 years old.

This wasn't breaking news, and of course the same is roughly true for most people, scientists and medical professionals aside. Still, I couldn't help but feel hypocritical. Here I was, putting together a magazine issue about the state and importance of genetics education in today's world, and I had to look up "telomere."

As I went through the articles in this issue, though, I started to realize that I'm not doing so badly after all. Not when it comes to knowledge of the molecular processes of the cell - I'm still pretty hopeless there - but on bigger-picture topics, like the value and caveats of medical genomics, the fallacies of genetic determinism, and what it means to be able to patent a gene. (Speaking of which, see the first two pieces of this issue for a vastly important special update on the legality of gene patents!) And as the contributors to this issue explain, for most adults, having some awareness and understanding of those issues is considerably more important than being able to explain the difference between meiosis and mitosis (yup, had to look that one up, too).

Now, if you're a biologist or a clinician, knowing your cell processes is probably going to be a bit more important. It's also going to be important to know that our understanding of inheritance has shifted considerably over the last few decades, even if the textbooks haven't necessarily. With our constantly evolving comprehension of epigentics and gene-environment interaction, Punnett squares start to look a bit quaint.

Yet even for those who make a living applying their knowledge of genetics to research or medicine, an awareness of the broader implications is essential - and often overlooked. As Morgan Thompson, Benjamin Morris and Jon Beckwith point out in this issue (page 16), when students learn about the science but not about the consequences of misusing it, they become "a docile lot," lacking something arguably just as important as a grasp of the science itself: "A strong sense of responsibility for the problematic uses of their own or others' work that could cause social harm." And it's up to the rest of us to pay attention, lest we too become a docile lot.

Search: GeneWatch
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.
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CRG has investigated and reported on the commercial claims made about genetically modified crops and transgenic animals introduced into the food supply.
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