Call to inform about genomics

Mark Henaghan
Mark Henaghan
The public needs to be made more aware of the issues around genome sequencing if New Zealand is take full advantage of the fast-growing technology, University of Otago Faculty of Law dean Prof Mark Henaghan says.

Prof Henaghan, who is the principal investigator for the New Zealand Law Foundation-funded Human Genome Research Project, made the comments this week at a Science Media Centre briefing discussing genomics and the legal and ethical implications of future sequencing technologies.

New Zealand's healthcare and research sectors could benefit hugely from developments in the field, but it was important that the public was informed about the issue, he said.

One area which had "massive potential" was the development of a databank containing the mapped genome of every New Zealander.

However, because of a lack of understanding of genomics many would be suspicious of such a move.

"We have got to get the goodwill of the public behind it, because I think the potential good of it is fantastic," he said.

Prof Henaghan also spoke about some of the ethical issues associated with genome sequencing.

This included whether people should inform family members if they found they had a genetic mutation - as they were likely to share the same genes.

Another issue was whether people should inform insurance providers about the results of genome sequencing.

Chief executive of Dunedin company New Zealand Genomics Tony Lough also spoke at the briefing.

He said he would "love to be involved" in the mapping of every New Zealander's genome, but such a project was "not quite on our radar" yet.

He earlier spoke about how rapidly genome-sequencing technology was developing, bringing the cost and time it took to map genomes down.

"It's expanding the opportunities for use of genomics and its applications to health, agriculture, horticulture and the environment.

"We are probably at a crossroads in terms of its applications in society and across the economy," Mr Lough said.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz