The importance of researching societal implications of genomics

Listening, consultation and citizen participation are key to the adoption of all innovative technologies — to understand why or why not society accepts particular applications or cutting edge technologies

The underlying science of genomics is the same whether researchers are working in healthcare, agrifood or natural resources. Scientists can now read, edit or write DNA and their research can dramatically reshape how we tackle the most basic issues affecting humanity such as disease, hunger, and climate change.

As with any transformative technology, society’s acceptance of genomics based applications has varied. Some genomics technologies, like genetically engineering microorganisms to produce drugs like insulin for diabetes patients or artemisinin to fight malaria, is readily accepted and utilized. However, other applications, like genetically modifying agricultural crops to produce a higher yield is highly contested in many parts of the world.

So why are there different attitudes toward the application of genomic tools and techniques to food security or production and human health? The differing attitudes have a large influence on how and if these technologies are used. These ethical questions are just one type of issue that societal research tries to answer.

There are many other societal questions that genomics based applications can bring to the forefront. First, the application of genomic tools can completely revolutionize how goods and services are produced and distributed. It is important that appropriate economic analyses be performed to understand how these changes will affect producer and distributors’ costs and the price to end users. Second, the effects of genomic technologies on society may not be uniform. Some segments of society will receive a positive benefit while others could be negatively affected. Researching these societal implications helps identify these trade-offs and their potential impacts. Third, some genomics based applications are at the cutting edge of technology. This can raise concerns as to whether current policy and regulations adequately ensure that the technology is safe for humans and the environment. Investigating these concerns can provide policy and regulatory recommendations.

Societal research ensures societal perceptions, concerns, and questions are considered. It assists scientists, companies, government regulators, and policy makers to better understand how new genomic technology will impact society. And when integrated appropriately, societal research helps optimize applications — through enhanced knowledge and understanding comes responsible application, greater benefit and acceptance of genomics in society.

From healthcare to natural resources, search our projects database for genomics in society research in BC

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