DNA access may bring only disappointment

SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 05:00 22/07/2012

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Kiwis who want instant access to the secrets of their DNA may be disappointed, researchers have warned - but the future for those with rare diseases is far brighter.

Otago University student and former Wanaka farmer Steve Anderson wants to become the first New Zealander to have his full genetic coding recorded and given to him.

Anderson said he had been told the analysis of more than three billion pieces of information could be presented on about 30 compact discs.

The 57-year-old said his request was inspired by an interest in the ageing process and made possible by the steadily decreasing cost of genetic coding.

"If you think back years ago, it took millions of dollars to study one genome, now, it's only thousands of dollars, and you can do so much more."

Anderson said the data he collected could be put to good use in the future as the field of genetic research developed.

"Imagine if you could pull up your DNA coding, look at a certain expression of genes and use them to make you healthier, or know about something you're going to get in the future."

Auckland University associate professors Cristin Print and Andrew Shelling, who both work in the field of genetic research, said other Kiwis had had their genomes sequenced, but the scale of Anderson's request was unique.

Ordinary people who wanted revelations from their DNA were likely to be disappointed, they said.

While the mapping could be "life-changing" for those with rare diseases or families with genetic problems, Shelling said most people were unlikely to benefit significantly from the information.

"People who are doing it for lifestyle reasons, like seeing whether they'll be good at sport or have a slightly increased risk of heart disease . . . they're probably going to be mildly disappointed."

Most people would end up with "genetic horoscopes", predicting a range of diseases that they were slightly more susceptible to than others, but with no guarantee they would become ill.

Shelling said it was difficult to interpret the genetic information, with much of the data generated still too complex for scientists to understand.

Print said evolving technology would allow researchers to make better use of the information in the future.

"We will have great advances in the next 10 years that will blow what we've got now out of the water."

The pair believed there needed to be more discussion about the potential benefits of genetic coding, as well as the consequences of the information it revealed.

"There's implications for insurance, and what about the children's right to know if they have a genetic disease? All of these issues need to be discussed," Shelling said.

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People who wanted to find out about their genetic coding should be given access to "gene coaches" to help them deal with the repercussions of any unwelcome news, he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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