I am relooking at some notes and slides I prepared for this topic. Its an interesting topic not only because of the science behind it but also the ethical, social and legal implications (that makes the acronym “ELSI”) which blur the lines between right and wrong. Here are two very good resources
The first is the NOVA programs. The videos capture authentic situations that individuals face with regards to genetic diseases and also feature the scientists, science behind the project. Its more information packed in multimedia than I can summarize in a set of lecture notes. More information meaning the drama of the video that will contribute to affective learning and hence motivate students to learn more about the subject.
The 2nd is this free,… yes free, online book you can download. Its easy to read and the examples giving illustrate clearly the perplexing “ELSI” issues about genetic testing, abortions, genetic determinism… that will surface once genetic tests become more accessible..
Think ELSI and genetic testing are still far off… well read this groundbreaking and probably as “Brave New World” as it can get article in the New York Times on how you can pay just under USD$1000 for the company 23andMe to scan your genome for 580,000 SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms). You actually can order the kit.. not sure how it works but I guess you can do it at home for yourself and children. There are at least 3 companies who will do that for around that price.
This NYT journalist got her own genome scanned by just spitting saliva into a little test tube . Here’s a snippet of the article titled “My Genome, Myself: Seeking Clues in DNA”
“I don’t like brussels sprouts. Who knew it was genetic? But I have the snippet of DNA that gives me the ability to taste a compound that makes many vegetables taste bitter. I differ from people who are blind to bitter taste — who actually like brussels sprouts — by a single spelling change in our four-letter genetic alphabet: somewhere on human chromosome 7, I have a G where they have a C.”
But that’s just information…. trivia about your genes. It gets more serious when people actually use that information to determine the genetics of their progeny. This couple actually had their daughter “genetically determined” so that she wouldn’t inherit forms of genes that would make her highly susceptible to a certain form of colon cancer. This testing is termed preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or P.G.D., which means you need to cull embryos to get the right one. An eight-cell embryo has gone through fertilization.
For this couple, 4 were culled leaving 10 good ones that didn’t have those forms of genes that cause cancer, 2 more were culled when a Down’s syndrome test was done. Think that is unethical? Well there are people who actually remove their large intestines or breasts as a prophylactic measure against such cancers once they find they harbour just the forms of genes that make them susceptible. They may have siblings who have died because of that disease. Watch the 3rd video called One Wrong Letter in the set of videos on Nova and you will know why it becomes so grey.
(thanks to Kevin Lam who pointed out the genome scan link).