UC-Berkeley genetic tests for freshmen

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I’m not sure which tags to apply to this story. I’m torn between “colossally-bad-ideas” and “university-auditions-for-big-brother”.

Berkeley asks freshmen for DNA samples
Instead of the usual required summer-reading book, this years incoming freshmen at the University of California, Berkeley, will get something quite different: a cotton swab on which they can, if they choose, send in a DNA sample.

This is so unbelievable that I looked all over the web for news stories to confirm it isn’t just a late April Fools. What conceivable educational value do they think is going to come out of this?

The university said it would analyze the samples, from inside students cheeks, for three genes that help regulate the ability to metabolize alcohol, lactose and folates.
Those genes were chosen not because they indicate serious health risks but because students with certain genetic markers may be able to lead healthier lives by drinking less, avoiding dairy products or eating more leafy green vegetables.


Hey, Berkeley! Great plan! I’m sure that your lactose intolerant students will shocked to discover that they’re lactose intolerant! OMG! That explains the milkshakes! Likewise, I’m sure that the health impacts of alcohol consumption will get your 18-year-old freshmen to booze less on the weekends! And that folate metabolism test, well, that will get them used to supplements, won’t it?

I mean, seriously. Nutrigenomics is a legitimate field of investigation, but testing individuals for genes that relate to nutritional requirements has become the smelly armpit of “personalized genomics”. Companies selling “personalized diet plans” or “nutritional supplements” based on supposed genetic testing have become a problem and subject of recurrent FTC investigations. There is no credible science that supports such supplements or plans, outside known nutritional deficiencies.

In fact, there is no credible science that supports the idea that knowing your lactase persistence genotype, alcohol metabolic genotypes, or “folate” metabolic genotypes will improve health.

This information is useless. It’s a total waste of money. It gives a highly misleading picture of genetics.

The most probable outcome is to condition 18-year-olds to accept government-sponsored genotyping. So to make it complete, the program comes with a lack of adequate privacy safeguards. The proposal has students using “bar codes” to access their data on a public website.

Yeah, great! That’s about as “anonymous” as your drink order at a coffee shop.