Genomics and Society

Genomics holds great promise, but it also confronts us with new questions.

While genomics has made rapid advancements over the past decades, there are still many questions to which scientists seek answers. The rapid advancement of genomics and its uptake in society will undoubtedly raise genuine concerns—not only over how advancements in biotechnology may impact our lives, but also how these technologies can benefit society through their application.

The public has an important stake in how these technologies evolve and how they are utilized in as diverse areas as health care, food safety and quality, and the environment. They wrestle with questions about the protection of privacy and discrimination based on genetic data, the potential implications of gene editing and gene patenting, or their understanding of genetically-modified foods.

 

The public must be part of the conversation.

Ongoing continuous effort must be made to keep genomics in the public consciousness as the science evolves. The more informed society is on the challenges it faces, the more it will prosper. Providing all citizens with fact based information, and presenting the pros and cons of evolving biotechnologies is required for the kind of thoughtful decision-making needed to develop and inform policy that will help realize the benefits of genomics.

Funding for research examining the societal aspects of genomics

Genome BC has taken a leadership role in exploring the societal aspects of genomics research. One way we do this is through supporting genomics-related social science and humanities research. This area of research doesn’t just focus on genomic impacts on society once the scientific research is complete . Through collaboration, it also aims to inform on the societal dimension of scientific research questions, research design and funding allocation. This can help genomics research produce social benefits and achieve public value.

This research is interdisciplinary, conducted by researchers across many disciplines within social science and humanities, who often work shoulder-to-shoulder with genomic scientists. Using a range of perspectives and methods, social science and humanities researchers can examine stakeholder interests, public values, economics and policy issues associated with genomics, and help anticipate potential risks and benefits as scientific research projects develop.

Social science and humanities research can also help identify the needs and goals of users and other interested communities. An improved understanding of these views can help as genomics based discoveries move into applications as we seek to maximize benefit while minimizing the risk of harm. Research can also provide insight into how solutions can be efficiently integrated with existing systems, from health care to resource management.

In the context of Genome Canada’s Large Scale Applied Research projects, this research is referred to as ‘GE3LS – Genomics and its Environmental, Economic, Ethical, Legal and Social aspects and is distinct from the anticipated socio-economic benefits of the project itself. This research provides stakeholders with the insights needed to anticipate impacts of scientific advances in genomics, avoid pitfalls, cultivate success, and ultimately, contribute to Canada’s leadership in the 21st century global bioeconomy.

Genome BC supports BC researchers through funding for stand-alone projects that explore topics related to the societal aspects of genomics, as well as integrated GE3LS research through Genome Canada’s Large Scale Applied Research projects.

View current funding opportunities.

Still have questions or have an idea for a research proposal? Contact Kate Harland, our Genomics and Society Advisor.

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Genome Canada has also published a series of Policy Briefs examining many genomics issues and presenting policy options for consideration by policy makers and the public.