Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Genome Policy

The December 2006 issue of Nature Reviews Genetics has a useful article by Susanne B. Haga and Huntington F. Willard entitled "Defining the Spectrum of Genome Policy". Here is the abstract followed by a brief excerpt:

Abstract: Many achievements in the genome sciences have been facilitated by policies that have prioritized genome research, secured funding and raised public and health-professional awareness. Such policies should address ethical, legal and social concerns, and are as important to the scientific and commercial development of the field as the science itself. On occasion, policy issues take precedence over science, particularly when impasses are encountered or when public health or money is at stake. Here we discuss the spectrum of current issues and debates in genome policy, and how to actively engage all affected stakeholders to promote effective policy making.

Genomics, the science of whole genomes, differs in approach, breadth and emphasis from genetics, which focuses on the roles and inheritance of individual genes and their variants. Genomics encompasses the development and application of technologies for the comprehensive study of the biology of cells, tissues, whole organisms and even populations. It includes genome sequence analysis, as well as studies of gene expression, protein products and metabolites. The data from such studies have advanced such diverse areas as evolution, developmental biology, drug development and clinical diagnosis. Examples of applications are as diverse as comparative sequence analysis, tumour microarray expression profiling, whole-genome analysis for disease-association studies and hand-held sensors that identify airborne pathogens.

Although policy issues can be categorized in different ways, we consider five main areas of genome policy: research issues; legal issues; economic issues; educational issues; and acceptance and implementation. The natural history of any genome advance or application, from the discovery stage through to translation, production and both professional and public acceptance, can be considered in terms of these broad categories. Many policy issues have arisen in response to genetic advances and applications, but the broader scale of genome sciences expands and potentially exacerbates them, and gives rise to new issues. Although presented here in discrete categories, genome policy is actually a complex network of issues, whereby one issue can influence or be dependent on another.