What are the advantages of studying the human genome? Are there any disadvantages?

The genome is sometimes called “life’s blueprint”, it contains a lot of information on the formation and function of the body, about evolution, ancestry, and family relations. By investigating and analyzing the human genome, many people are hopeful about the various benefits this research can bring to individuals and society as a whole.


One hope is that genome research will lead to the discovery of the causes of certain diseases, as well as the development of new kinds of treatment.. Recently, some doctors and clinicians look to slight differences in individual genomes to give more precise diagnoses of certain conditions. In addition, this technology can be used to make forecasts about physical health, provide paternity testing, help in criminal investigations, and so on.


One possible disadvantage is when we consider situations where genetic information is abused. It is possible that if someone were to gain access to another person’ genetic information, this information could be used against them. For example, if it were discovered that a person had a higher-than-average risk of contracting a certain disease, this information might negatively impact her ability to get a job. Or, in another scenario, unnecessary paternity testing might infringe upon the rights and wellbeing of parents and children.


As interest and expectation grows around genetic information technology, an increasing number of private genetic sequencing services seem to falsely imply that things like disease, physical constitution, individual skill, family relationships and so on are entirely determined by genetics. It is important for researchers and scientists to correctly inform the public about the role of genetics—namely how they are very few things that are entirely determined by ones genome.
Society as a whole must think about how to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits of genetic information technology.


*1 Please refer to the URL below for explanations about human genome at Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Life Science Plaza Efforts towards Bioethics and Safety Human genome research website (in Japanese).


Some people are concerned about discrimination based on genetic information, but how can knowing this kind of information lead to discrimination?

Genetic information can tell us about a person’s health and the likelihood that they will contract a particular disease or condition in the future. So even if someone is in good health now, because of this future risk they may be unfairly prevented from joining insurance programs, or from being hired or promoted at work. And because certain genetic traits can be passed down to one’s children, genetic information might negatively affect someone’s chances for marriage. Furthermore, because we share our genes with members of our family, this kind of genetic discrimination could extend beyond the individual and affect her family and relatives as well.