The University of California at Berkeley had an interesting idea, “Bring Your Genes to Cal”, but the state Public Health Department disagreed.  The original plan was to test incoming freshman for three genes involved in the metabolism of alcohol, lactose and folates.  The theory was that providing this information to new students would help them manage their health better by perhaps, not drinking as much alcohol, understanding why they got uncomfortable after consuming dairy or increasing their intake of leafy greens to increase their folate levels.  Unfortunately, the California Public Health Department determined that the information could be used improperly.

The University agreed not to provide the information directly to students but will test the samples provided voluntarily by approximately 1,000 students to explore these issues.   The unexpected response is providing an experience that the Berkeley professors who started the program didn’t expect.  Based on the adjustment of the program Berkeley is planning open debates and conversations about the ethics of genetic testing.    Some clinics do provide genetic testing to determine a predisposition to specific diseases including certain cancers, coronary heart disease, multiple sclerosis and obesity among others.  These clinics are certified to provide the testing whereas Berkeley is not and the testing was not part of a research study.  The field of genetic testing is expanding dramatically and tests are starting to provide ever more valuable health information.  The ethics of some of these tests and how the information is used is still a major point of controversy.

Written by