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Which Future Will it Be?

Visions of technology-advanced futures usually fall into two camps: "techno-optimist" like that of J. B. S. Haldane and "techno-pessimist" like that of Aldous Huxley, writes Nathaniel Comfort at The Point.

"Whether one is an optimist or pessimist, genetics is certainly changing our social roles, our social mobility, our social relations. Modern biology challenges conventional understandings of autonomy, surveillance and privacy," he adds. "In short, advances in DNA science have surely placed us in some kind of brave new world — the question is, which kind."

Companies like 23andMe and project like the Personal Genome Project herald a future where genomic information is shared and everyone has access to their information, Comfort says. At the same time, such data is highly valuable to companies.

The other recent revolution has been in information technology, and Comfort wonders how the two will come together — the Whitehead's Yaniv Erlich, he notes, was able to go from sequences from the 1,000 Genomes Project to last names fairly easily, and it's only a few clicks to Facebook profiles and even more personal information.

"When we relinquish privacy and commodify our data, we should expect something in return. But doing the cost-benefit analysis with our genetic information is as tricky as it is important," Comfort argues.

"If we are aware of the exchanges we are making and how our information is valued — if we are alert to the commodification of personal data — we can remain active players instead of becoming pawns," he adds.


The Scan

Positive Framing of Genetic Studies Can Spark Mistrust Among Underrepresented Groups

Researchers in Human Genetics and Genomics Advances report that how researchers describe genomic studies may alienate potential participants.

Small Study of Gene Editing to Treat Sickle Cell Disease

In a Novartis-sponsored study in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that a CRISPR-Cas9-based treatment targeting promoters of genes encoding fetal hemoglobin could reduce disease symptoms.

Gut Microbiome Changes Appear in Infants Before They Develop Eczema, Study Finds

Researchers report in mSystems that infants experienced an enrichment in Clostridium sensu stricto 1 and Finegoldia and a depletion of Bacteroides before developing eczema.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment Specificity Enhanced With Stem Cell Editing

A study in Nature suggests epitope editing in donor stem cells prior to bone marrow transplants can stave off toxicity when targeting acute myeloid leukemia with immunotherapy.