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Emerging field of ‘social genomics’ comes with ethical, societal risks: ‘Who’s going to benefit?’

| | October 29, 2019

This article or excerpt is included in the GLP’s daily curated selection of ideologically diverse news, opinion and analysis of biotechnology innovation.

By looking at the genomes of people living in former coal-mining areas, [geneticist Abdel Abdellaoui] has found genetic signatures associated with spending fewer years at school compared with people outside those areas, and — at weaker significance levels — variants that correlate with lower socio-economic status.

The study — published [October 21] in Nature Human Behaviour — is a high-profile example of an emerging trend: using huge amounts of data and computing power to uncover genetic contributions to complex social traits. Studies published in the past decade have examined genetic variants linked to aggression, same-sex sexual behaviour, well-being and antisocial behaviours, as well as the tendency to drink and smoke. In doing such science, geneticists are heading for controversial territory.

Related article:  Viewpoint: New book 'Blueprint' revisits the dangerous theory of genetic determinism

Critics charge that the ethical and societal risks of acting on such information are too great. “One of the main concerns is not so much the study of genomics, but how are we going to use it,” says Maya Sabatello, a bioethicist at Columbia University in New York City. “Who’s going to benefit? Who’s not going to benefit? We live in a very unequal society and this is a major challenge.”

Read full, original post: The promise and peril of the new science of social genomics

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