In this week's Science, a multi-institute group of researchers argue for a balance between precaution and innovation when it comes to the use of gene-manipulating technologies. While some have urged extreme caution when it comes to the use of technologies such as gene drives — calling for strict evaluation and testing before they are put into widespread use — others maintain that over-zealous restrictions hamper technological development. The authors offer four recommendations for finding a middle ground including: engaging with stakeholders; accounting for values; developing a well-defined framework for determining the right time to move forward with a technology; and conducting ecological risk assessments to understand the probabilities of negative environmental and health effects. "Precaution," the authors say, "can be consistent with support of science."
And in Science Translational Medicine, a team from Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and other institutions publish an analysis of two large-scale genomic studies that shows people who carry disease-linked genetic mutations are more likely to develop that disease. Because carrying a mutation linked to a disease doesn't always lead to the development of that disease, efforts to predict which carriers will and which won't become ill is difficult. To help address the issue, the researcbers analyzed DNA sequencing and clinical data from 462 European Americans involved in the Framingham Heart Study and 3,223 African-American participants in the Jackson Heart Study. They classified unique variants in 56 genes known to contribute to 24 inherited disorders and, among these, identified a few pathogenic or disease-associated variants in a small number of participants. When these data were combined with clinical histories, the group found that carriers were indeed more likely to develop the associated disease than non-carriers, highlighting the value of population-based genetic screening. GenomeWeb has more on this study here.