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expert reaction to GO Science report on ‘Genomics beyond health’

A report from the Government Office for Science looks at what genomics could mean for wider government.


Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust (PET), said:

“The Genomics Beyond Health report is as welcome as it is timely.  The use of genomic data outside the healthcare setting needs careful scrutiny, and safeguards are needed to protect the public from any potential misuse of their data.  This report must be acted on expeditiously, as genomics is such a fast-moving area.

“Public trust in the use of genomic data for healthcare and research is vital, and such trust may be undermined if more dubious uses of genomic data are allowed to go unchecked.  Unlike some other types of medical or sensitive data, an individual’s genomic data can potentially expose facts about their family members as well as themselves.  What a person decides to with their genomic data can have lifelong consequences, for them and for others.

“The report asks a number of far-reaching questions, considering how genomic data could impact upon education, employment and even car insurance.  Society needs to address these issues as soon as possible.”


Prof Darren Griffin, Professor of Genetics, University of Kent, said:

“Science and Social Science working together is one of the things that the UK does best.  The opportunity should not be missed to make a world-leading difference, not just to health in this country but globally as well.  The wider issues beyond healthcare are also worthy of considerable care and debate.”


Prof Shirley Hodgson, Professor of Cancer Genetics, St George’s, University of London, said:

“The huge advances in our knowledge of genomics, and the fact that genomes can be sequenced so cheaply, has revolutionised our understanding of the characteristics of living things.  The low hanging fruit from this knowledge is that we can now identify gene variants which cause a predisposition to cancer, allowing preventative measures to be offered to individuals with such variants, and in general, testing for disease susceptibility genes is becoming part of clinical medicine.  This is a step change from what could be done before.  The wider implications of genetic testing in the population are only just becoming understood, and it is important that genomic information is appropriately interpreted and understood, to avoid over-interpretation and potential misuse of genomic data.  The benefits of genomic data are clear in the medical context, but it is important that the many genetic influences on other characteristics are not overestimated, in the knowledge that many of our characteristics are due to a combination of many genetic traits and environmental influences.  Regulations to counteract misuse of genomic data should be developed in tandem with the increasing use of such data.  This should include considerations regarding its use for insurance purposes, and the development of careful guidance and regulation regarding the manipulation of genes in genome editing in man.  Genome editing in plants could be hugely important in developing pest-resistant crops and crops that can thrive in changing climatic conditions, which has obvious benefits for the future.”



‘Genomics Beyond Health: What could genomics mean for wider government?’ was published by the Government Office for Science at 00:01 UK time on Wednesday 26 January 2022.



Declared interests

Sarah Norcross: “PET is a charity which improves choices for people affected by infertility and genetic conditions.”

Prof Darren Griffin: “No COI.”

Prof Shirley Hodgson: “I have no conflicting interests.”

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