Resources: DNA Basics

20 years after the human genome was first sequenced, dangerous gene myths abound Philip Ball The Guardian, 9th June 2021

Sequencing the human genome was hailed by many as decoding humanity’s “instruction manual”, with genes supposedly carrying all the information needed to determine particular traits, and mediate health and disease. Instead, some 20 years later, genetics has since turned this deterministic view of genetics on its head.

As dissected by Phillip Ball in The Guardian article, this deterministic “instruction book” image is precisely the fallacy that genomics has overturned, as our understanding of genetics grows. Yet such false claims are yet to be addressed by genomic researchers.

The human genome project has consistently promoted and sustained a misleading view of genes.

Failure to address the falsehoods of genetic determinism is laying the ground for the latest era of consumer tests that claim to reveal where we come from and what makes us, us.

It is also facilitating the latest resurgence in racist and eugenics politics.

Most traits have a genetic component that is immensely complicated, with perhaps hundreds of genes involved, as well as other environmental, and simply random factors.

While there have been some successes in genetic medicine, it has not transformed the field; successes in gene therapy are rare, and personalised medicine tailored to individual genetics has not materialised.

Watch the discussion at RightsCon Online (July 2020) about the rising collection of our DNA, increasingly becoming a key data source for police as well as private companies. The convergence of private data interests, the political climate in nations such as the US and Brazil, and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic are further fuelling the rise in data collection, raising concerns for abuses of power in the context of a lack of proper regulations across the world.

The conversation, joined by GeneWatch’s Executive Director Helen Wallace, covers some of the historical origins of genetic research, the overblown scientific claims made by private DNA companies, the necessary safeguards required to prevent miscarriages of justice, and recent international legal precedents limiting unfettered collection of innocent people’s DNA.