What will our high-tech future look like? Will it have less suffering? Will we be healthier? Will society be more fair, more just? Or will it be a dystopian universe like the ones pictured in sci-fi movies?
To work in genetics is to be challenged every day with these competing visions of the future. One of the perils — and the privileges — of being in this field is that its impact goes well beyond the lab and the clinic. Genetics and genomics have the potential to affect almost every aspect of our lives. Already, ancestry testing has raised new questions about how we define race and ethnicity. Reproductive medicine has expanded our definition of family. Someday soon, gene-editing techniques may force us to make hard decisions about how far we should go in manipulating the genetic inheritance of our children.
Welcome to Genome Culture.
In this biweekly column, I will explore the ways in which new genetic technology is changing people’s lives for better and worse. Together, we’ll look at trending topics in genomics as well as stories in the news that may be funny or serious, fact or fiction, cool or creepy. But at its very heart, this column is about how genetics and genomics affect you, your family, your friends, and your neighbors. I invite you to treat it as a conversation. If you have a story to tell or a question to ask, I will try to answer and to share as many as I can.
I’m a genetic counselor and faculty member at the Joan H. Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics at Sarah Lawrence College. I conduct research on ethical, legal, and social issues in genetics. I’m also a founding member and regular contributor to “The DNA Exchange,” as well as the co-host of the monthly podcast “Genomics in the News with Nathan and Laura.” I even wrote a novel about reproductive technology called Anybody’s Miracle, which was published in 2013. So I’m surrounded by genetics every day, and I’m excited to explore this field with you.