Welcome, UC Berkeley Freshmen! Now Hand Over Your DNA Samples

By Eliza Strickland | May 18, 2010 4:55 pm

UC-BerkeleyThis fall, incoming students at UC Berkeley will find a little something extra in their welcome packages: cotton swabs. The university is hoping that students will swab a few cells from the insides of their cheeks and pass them over to the university for DNA testing.

The university says this exercise will get students excited about the prospects of personalized medicine, in which genetic testing could allow doctors to tailor their treatments to individual patients. The administration stresses that students won’t be tested for their risks of serious diseases, but instead for three fairly mundane genes.

USA Today reports:

Geneticists will analyze each sample for three genes: metabolism of folate, tolerance of lactose and metabolism of alcohol, all relatively innocuous and perhaps useful in students’ daily lives. Students will be able to use that information to learn if they should eat more leafy green vegetables, steer clear of milk products or limit alcohol intake.

Jasper Rine, the professor of Genetics and Development Biology who’s overseeing the project, swears he’s not trying to create a genetic database of thousands of undergraduates for any nefarious purpose. Really, what nefarious purpose could there possibly be?

Anyway, the school can’t make lists of students who might be suitable for slave camp organ farms, because the data will all be anonymous. Each student’s genetics kit will come with two bar codes, one to be stuck on the sample and the other for the student to keep. The student can then retrieve his or her test results from a secure online database using the bar code. So there you go.

Related Content:
80beats: Now For Sale at Fire Sale Prices: Thousands of People’s Genomes
80beats: No Gattaca Here: Genetic Anti-Discrimination Law Goes Into Effect
80beats: Big League Baseball Prospects Face Another Hurdle: the DNA Test
80beats: DNA Sampling of Innocent-Until-Proven-Guilty People Is on the Rise

Image: flickr / Bernt Rostad

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    will they get a reduction in fees? :-)

  • Tacticus

    Because it’s so hard to keep track of who they send the barcodes to?

  • Niles

    At first I thought it’d be a mild deterrant to drink heavily if a student were to find that their alchohol metabolism wasn’t fantastic… but what of the converse, if they find they have an AWESOME alcohol metabolism. Woohoo!?

  • mothergrace

    This is completely improper. It reminds me of the draft. Get these kids, technically legal adults, to hand over their DNA when they are too young to think through the implications of having this information out there. Who has it? Why? Who will see it? How much control will the student have over their own info? How will it affect their health insurance, future employment, etc.?

    You may think I am a conspiracy nut, but when it comes to giving people this much info, Just Say No.

  • Chris M.

    I’m cautiously optimistic that my alma mater won’t be an idiot about this, and keep the data in a non-anonymized form.

    Very, very cautiously.

  • Andrew

    Yes, mothergrace, UC Berkeley will use the information to create greens-eating, alcohol-immune super nerd-warriors who will take over the world by instilling panic and fear with their milk-drinking prowess.

    Or maybe this is a conspiracy cooked up by local supermarkets to sell more salad.

    Or, maybe they just want to help students eat well and be healthy.

    I don’t know…tough choice.

    I think this idea has the potential to increase students’ wellbeing and maybe even academic performance…and I’m thankful that I’m a senior, and I won’t have to compete with the milk-drinking, lettuce-eating super nerd-warriors.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55--XbQFgWo Redmond Washington

    He’s just trying to create a database to make it easier to catch laptop thieves.


  • http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org Jeremy

    Please follow this link to a letter form the Council for Responsible Genetics Urging Dean Richards to reconsider offering DNA testing to incoming freshman.

  • http://www.epoksitlaki.si epoksidnitlaki

    It seems too complicated and very general for me to understand.

  • http://dnatestinfo.org/ dna testing centers

    Good day! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your articles. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same topics? Many thanks!


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