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Well, They Certainly Got Everyone Talking

The University of California, Berkeley's plan to offer incoming new students a test of their lactose, alcohol, and folic acid metabolizing genes, and thus foster talk about genetic testing, has drawn both criticism and praise. Jeremy Gruber, president of the Council for Responsible Genetics, wrote a letter to the school, asking the dean to halt the program, saying that "such testing should not be taken lightly."

In addition, the Center for Genes and Society says this is the wrong way to go about initiating a discussion. "This project could fuel common misperceptions about the importance of genetic information, and sets a bad precedent about the way genetic tests should be used. In effect, it puts the university's seal of approval on products that have not been — and may never be — approved by federal regulators," adds Marcy Darnovsky, the group's associate executive director.

Michael Eisen, a Berkeley professor, takes issue with that assessment. "C'mon. This is a UNIVERSITY. Apparently these guys need to be reminded that a university is a place where we teach students how to think about things. And we're actually quite good at it. I can think of no better place, time or manner to have this discussion. They can’t seriously expect us to only engage topics that have been approved by federal regulators?" he writes at the Berkeley blog.

Down the road from Berkeley, Stanford University's Russ Altman says this project is a great idea and good way to engage students. "I think that direct engagement with personal data is one very effective way to make all the issues crystal clear. This should be optional and there should be adequate safeguards, but this should not stop us from getting started in educating the general population about the promise and pitfalls of genetics," he writes at his blog, Building Confidence.

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