This article explains how advances in the study of genes and genomics (the field of biology that focuses on the structure, function, evolution, mapping and editing of genomes) are making human genomics accessible and affordable to the public. Since the cost of molecular biology techniques have dropped, businesses are able to tap on these technologies to bring to market. It is estimated that by 2022, the genomics business would grow into a $22 billion industry. So where do citizens play a part in the business cycle?
New companies are offering a range of services to the general public, including:
- Gene therapy on mostly somatic cells (any cell that is not an egg or sperm cell)
- Direct-to-consumer genetic testing to extract information for their clients
- Buying and selling genetic data to pharmaceutical companies for research
Furthermore, there are overlaps with new technologies such as using blockchain to sell personal genetic data, cloud computing for storing large databases of genetic data, and using Artificial Intelligence or machine learning for deep analysis of molecular data that could potentially become future drugs. The use of new technologies in this field could possibly mean that more breakthroughs can be made in a shorter period of time than traditional ways of research.
While new genomics businesses offer large potential of development, there are also ethical and legal considerations to be discussed. Moral issues that may be overlooked include the lack of international guidelines and monitoring of direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies, and the grey area in the ownership of genetic data.
Read the full article on World Economic Forum: From DIY editing to matchmaking by DNA: how human genomics is changing society
New technologies are enabling businesses to bring genetic science and methodologies closer to the general public. It can be beneficial for consumers who can find new solutions to the problems they have, ranging from serious medical issues to lifestyle improvements based on their genetic data for personalised recommendations.
However, like any other technologies, it is also a double-edged sword that can do good, but also harm if the data and technology fall into the wrong hands. This is especially so with scientific methods that can do permanent damage to living things if not carried out well and where the potential of harm is still unknown. The recent saga of the genetically-modified embryos in China should come to mind when such grey areas in science remain unresolved. What is permissible and what is not? What would constitute crossing the boundaries of ethics and morality?
Without transparency, we are also not privy to how businesses and institutions like hospitals, which hold troves of our genetic data, will handle those data and what would they be used for. It is likely that such sensitive data may be prone to misuse, and there should be safeguards to protect them.
Questions for further personal evaluation:
- What opportunities and challenges do you see in the new genomics business?
- What concerns would you have if you get to use these services as a consumer?
- ‘groundbreaking’: innovative; pioneering
- ‘consumable’: a commodity that is intended to be used up relatively quickly