English 165LB: Literature & Biotechnology (W11)

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Advisory group suggests Pentagon map genes of all personnel

Posted by rraley on January 14, 2011

“The technology for sequencing human DNA is advancing so rapidly and the cost is dropping so quickly that the number of individuals whose DNA has been mapped is expected to grow “from hundreds of people (current) to millions of people (probably within three years),” according to a new report to the Pentagon (pdf) from the JASON defense science advisory panel.  The Defense Department should begin to take advantage of the advances in “personal genomics technology” by collecting genetic information on all military personnel, the panel advised….

For military purposes, it will be up to the Department of Defense “to determine which phenotypes… have special relevance to military performance and medical cost containment” and then presumably to select for those.  “These phenotypes might pertain to short- and long-term medical readiness, physical and medical performance, and response to drugs, vaccines, and various environmental exposures…. More specifically, one might wish to know about phenotypic responses to battlefield stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder, the ability to tolerate conditions of sleep deprivation, dehydration, or prolonged exposure to heat, cold, or high altitude, or the susceptibility to traumatic bone fracture, prolonged bleeding, or slow wound healing.”
[From Secrecy News; January 13, 2011]

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2 Responses to “Advisory group suggests Pentagon map genes of all personnel”

  1. Matt Ferguson said

    Is there enough perfection to go around? A peak into something as private as someone’s genetic code seems like a terrible breach–and to what end? Can the military afford to select only the most perfect of specimens, or is the art of war turning the biological matter of the individual human into a military machine?

    A news report such as this calls to mind the film Gattaca. Aside from commenting on the importance of privacy protection, Gattaca also indicates that a man is more than probable outcomes and code. Perhaps the greatest modification of the body doesn’t come in a pill or through surgery, but through will and the labor it takes to achieve mastery.

    There is indication that environment can alter the expression of genes, (http://www.dukehealth.org/health_library/news/9322) so it is clear that much can change from the initial coding to the developed individual. And according to Malcom Gladwell’s research and subsequent book Outliers, there is more to mastery than talent. Hard work–will and dedication–can be more important than genes. (http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article4969415.ece)

  2. Chayanm Garcia said

    After going through the majority of the “$100 Genome: Implications for the DoD”, I got the sense that the monetary aspects of this scientific project seem to be much more important than any ethical implications this may have. My personal involvement/experience in the U.S. military gives me a bit of leverage to analyze/critique to the best of my abilities the uncertainties I foresee with the implementation of a project of this magnitude. This article talks about the “individual microbiome” and how the sequencing of its DNA would allow for the development of technology that would be able to track and that specific individuals movements and interactions through the genetic signature of the pathogens. What I got from this is that basically, everybody has unique microbes in ones system and mapping its DNA would serve a similar purpose as fingerprints do. But in order to understand the scope of this scientific project I had to re-read and research several scientific terminology that I never came across before.
    I am guessing that since this project proposes the mapping of all the military personnel, the DoD has to come up with a plan not only to inform everybody that will be directly involved but to ensure a full understanding of the purpose and procedures of this project. I may not be the smartest person in the world but I know that if I had a very difficult time trying to understand the majority of this article, there is no way in the world some of my military comrades (some who did not even graduate high school) will be able to comprehend even the minimal aspects of this project. But the report seems to be extremely uninterested on this aspect of its ultimate goal which is, to sell this service to the DoD regardless of any ethical implications. The report mentions something to the extend that this project would allow for a possible capability to track an individual even through his/her fecal matter in the sewage system. Even though my direct attachment to the military naturally deprives me of some liberties civilians may have, I’m still a human being with at least some appreciation of privacy.

    The implementation of this project would have to directly ask individuals for their voluntary donation of blood in order to map out their DNA. I just hope that there are some regulations that require the DoD to inform the subjects of why, how and for what their personal information would be used for.

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