UC Berkeley recently announced that they will offer incoming freshman free genotyping at three genetic loci for folate, alcohol and lactose. This is part of a tradition at Cal to engage entering students with some shared intellectual activity (the “On the same page” program). I believe it is absolutely critical that we immediately start educating students about genetics, and the use of genetic tests in making decisions in life. I think that direct engagement with personal data is one very effective way to make all the issues crystal clear. This should be optional and there should be adequate safeguards, but this should not stop us from getting started in educating the general population about the promise and pitfalls of genetics. Thus, I think that this is great and that Cal (a traditional rival of Stanford, thus the title of this post) deserves credit for bringing genetics to the consciousness of our next generation of leaders. Some have voiced concerns, and these can be handled with reasonable precautions. I am particularly amused by the concern that knowledge of genetics might induce poor behavior with respect to alcohol consumption. While this is certainly a theoretical possibility, it is my impression that students are already making poor decisions about alcohol consumption at such a rate that knowledge of genetics is unlikely to affect this trend appreciably. In fact, anything that gets the pros/cons of alcohol consumption into the discussion while students are sober is probably a good thing. We have featured alcohol genetics on a site to help high school biology students can see genetics in action. So, at least in the NARROW ARENA OF PROVIDING GENETIC INFORMATION SO STUDENTS CAN LEARN…Go Cal!
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