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Genomics and the DOD

By February 3, 2011Commentary

A group that advises the Department of Defense issued a report examining opportunities caused by the continuing decrease in the cost of obtaining individual genetic information, now projected to be as low as $100.  The report is therefore aptly titled ” The $100 Genome:  Implications for the DOD.”   (DOD Report) The report notes that the reduction in cost for genetic information means that it will no longer be a barrier to routine use of genetic testing.  In fact, genetic testing will be within or below the range of other sophisticated diagnostic tests.

A bigger problem will be the utility of the information gathered.  There is still very limited understanding of basic genetic and biochemical pathways, much less the meaning of individual variations in genetic coding.  It will be a long process before that clinical utility is well-established.  Because the Department of Defense is a major health care purchaser, the report recommends it take an active role in encouraging the gathering of genetic information on individuals it is responsible for and create partnerships to advance the state of knowledge on how that information can best be used to promote health.

Another major issue is the computing needs and costs associated with this much data.  DOD is no stranger to massive amounts of information, but it would need to develop specific strategies to store and manipulate genetic information.  Of course, especially in the military context, a variety of ethical issues will arise.  The data could be used to identify or even promote traits that make people better soldiers; more efficient at killing or less fearful under the tremendous stresses that accompany military action.  The report notes these concerns.

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