In a rush of parental anxiety, thousands of Chinese infants have undergone genetic testing with the aim of revealing what aptitudes and talents they may naturally possess or be more inclined to develop. The tests, based on nothing more than a saliva swab reportedly cost hundreds of pounds[i].
The science behind this may be dubious but the development alone confirms that we have already entered an age of human genetic mapping, enhancement and even manipulation. As costs of DNA sequencing continue to fall significantly, an increasing number of people could benefit from complete sequencing. Consider for example, that even healthy people, with no obvious personal or family medical history consistent with genetic diseases have around a 4.5 percent chance of a genetic mutation that will directly impact their healthcare needs – both current and future[ii].
As millions and, in the future, billions of people undergo genomic sequenced as part of (increasingly) standard health care, data analytics will come into its own. Genomes will be compared to life experience and outcomes – helping uncover hitherto hidden genetic and epigenetic patterns. The potential for curing a range of conditions and diseases expands with the growth of such data. It has even been suggested that such analysis could render assisted fertility the most popular way of producing babies by 2040[iii].
Stephen Hsu, a professor at Michigan State University with an extensive background in genomics, suggests that within years we will be able to predict of the future height of the human from cells taken from early stage embryos; ascertaining intelligence from such cells may be reachable within a decade. Along with the innate ethics of such precise selection, the general spread of genomics presents us with a range of other issues.
Not all countries have explicit legal policies designed to protect consumers from corporate misuse of personal genetic information. Genetic discrimination, whether overt or covert, could flourish without regulatory safeguards – rendering health insurance potentially impossible for to obtain for some people. Could such genetic information even enter the realm of work or education? Whilst personal education could result that pinpoints areas of specific weakness and uses methodologies and curricula to help address it, the flipside – of abusing such information also looms large. A number of key questions remain unanswered; perhaps most critically is how we can ensure equitable access to these technologies – and the information contained within – so populations within a nation and even globally do not fall into a binarity of genetic haves and have-nots?