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Gene Editing: Bring your genome home

In recent years, two new genetic technologies have started a scientific and medical revolution. One is the ability to easily decode the information in our genes and it is relatively well known. It began with the development of tests for genetic diseases. They have proven they can be quite successful, leading to a reduction of human suffering.

The other, not yet clearly understood by the general public, is the newfound capacity to modify genes at will. New editing tools to create genetically defined human cell lines have come to the fore. The work to sequence the first human genome was a collaborative effort across the globe, took 13 years to complete and cost somewhere in the region of $2.7bn.

These innovations provide the power to predict certain risks to our health, eliminate deadly diseases, and ultimately transform us and the world we live in. In the last few years, genetic testing has entered the commercial mainstream. Direct-to-consumer testing is now commonplace, claiming the tests enable us to trace our ancestry and purport to provide an insight into our future health.

As the genetic tests have become widespread and started changing people’s lives in more complex ways, ethical concerns have begun to surface. Despite the best of intentions and even the best initial outcomes, it is very easy with genetic modification to drift across a line in the sand.

Moreover, the widespread DNA testing raises the possibility that our own DNA could be used against us. For example, the American Health Care Act reform, narrowly passed by The House of Representatives in May 2017, commonly known as Trumpcare, allows insurers to charge higher premiums for people with a pre-existing condition. If this component of the Republican health care reform becomes law, the courts may conclude that a genetic test qualifies as proof of a preexisting condition, which will end up affecting health insurance payments.