Uncovering the mysteries of the human genome and exposing humankind to the benefits and potential risks of this information will affect all humans regardless of race, class, gender, socio-economic status, or any other classification measure. For this reason, we strive to involve and include all people. By keeping the wellbeing of humankind at the heart of project goals, we can steer the research toward positive ends. As a community of scientists, we remain committed to pursuing a greater understanding of the human genome and the consequences of this knowledge, and to making our findings available to the public. We are actively concerned about the ethical, social, and legal implications of this research.
A Unifying Vision
Many people have expressed fears about what human genome research will lead to. Will it illustrate our differences or our commonalities? Will it give scientific credence to the prejudices of the past? Will it devalue human beings? These are substantial fears that cannot easily be ignored.
As we discover more about our genome, we are finding that the reality is a lot less scary than we imagined. By comparing the genome sequences of other species, from worms to fish, mice to chimpanzees, we see a wider view of the world. We have learned that each human is extremely similar genetically to every other. The DNA of any one person is 99.9% similar to that of any other person (with the exception of identical twins, which are 100% similar to each other). What's more, humans are in fact very similar to other mammalian species as well. For example, the mouse and human genomes differ by only 1%! This makes the genetic differences that account for physical characteristics in people, such as skin color, eye color, height, or weight, insignificant in comparison. The exploration of the human genome leads us to a new way of looking at ourselves and others.
Harnessing New Technology Responsibly
Very soon our knowledge of the human genome will give us powerful new tools to fight disease. The cures for many gene-linked illnesses will come thanks to targeted therapeutic approaches. We are beginning to identify certain portions of the human genome that are linked with specific diseases, such as Huntington's, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. It is hoped that early identification of the genetic potential for developing these diseases will enable early intervention and more effective treatment for those not yet afflicted. Countering these positive results of the genome project is the fear that someday we may know enough about genetic engineering to select certain qualities for our children. While this is still a long way off, exploration of the ethical, social, moral, and legal implications now will allow society to enact policy and legislation to protect both the rights and lives of future generations. For this reason, the CBSE supports research in genomic ethics.
Our Commitment to Diversity
Because these issues must be explored from many perspectives, we believe it is essential to engage a diverse range of students and faculty in genome research and its surrounding ethical, legal, and social implications. The CBSE actively works to pave the way for talented students from diverse backgrounds to enter genomic sciences. Through our Research Mentoring Institute (RMI), we offer diversity fellowships to support undergraduate and graduate students at UCSC who are working on genome related research projects. We work with local schools and recruit students at national conferences hosted by SACNAS, SHPE, NSBE, and SWE, and through programs such as MESA, CAMP, MARC/MBRS, MEP, ACE, ACCESS. We are also interested in increasing public awareness of the potential benefits and risks of genome research.
We offer talks about our research and tours of our computational laboratory to local schools and community organizations.