Sunday, December 28, 2008

let. to ed. re. "Double Helix Dept. Ptooey!" -- New Yorker

Dear Sir:

The recent article in the New Yorker about the much publicized "spit
parties" organized by personal genomics companies skillfully captures
the consumer laissez-faire response to personal genomics. While
personal genomics companies may bill themselves as recreational and
non-medical to circumvent FDA oversight, there remain numerous
unappreciated privacy concerns on par with sharing personal medical

Your genome describes -- in exquisite detail -- your tendency
propensity toward character traits and disease. And even if we can't
decipher much of it now, scientific advances will eventually decode
enough to substantially affect your children's privacy -- with whom
you share a large chunk of your genome.

Further, recent studies suggest that the genomic anonymity relied upon
by many companies to share your data may be quickly eroding, further
exposing consumers and their families' genomic data. Like the erosion
of online privacy, personal genomics will eventually push our society
to reevaluate notions of privacy. Until then, personal genomics
companies need to be especially vigilant in protecting our privacy.

We wonder if all the celebrities having their "DNA scanned" would be
as relaxed about other (more conventional) invasions of their privacy
(e.g. having their photo taken on the street) as they are with their
genome, if all these implications were transparent.

Dov Greenbaum JD MPhil PhD
Mark Gerstein, PhD

Above is an unpublished letter to the editor in response to:
Double Helix Dept.
by Michael Schulman September 22, 2008

Certain innovations—cell phones, the umbrella—started out as symbols of wealth
before trickling down to the masses. Getting to know your genotype may be next
on the list. In 2006, Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki founded a company called
23andMe (that’s chromosome pairs), which gives its customers the chance to
decode their genes....