April 28, 2016 7:45 pm

Explore Genetic Testing and Gene Bullying, this Friday with Host Neil deGrasse Tyson

Image of dna and a lock for a blog post about the StarTalk Radio episode, "The Promise and Peril of the Genomic Revolution." Credit: wildpixel/iStock.

Credit: wildpixel/iStock.

We started this season with a look into the future of humanity with Ray Kurzweil, and one important aspect of that future was unlocking the potentials of the human genome.

Well, this week we get an update from the frontlines of that genomic revolution from none other than Anne Wojcicki, the co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, a leader in genomic testing and research.

But to keep the conversation balanced, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chuck Nice also have an in-studio guest: Columbia University bioethicist Prof. Robert Klitzman, MD, who brings his specific scientific knowledge and provides his perspective on personalized medicine, gene splicing and more.

And that perspective is very important, because it turns out that even though we’ve mapped the human genome, genetic testing is far from a slam dunk, filled with false positives and false negatives – and the dangers that implies. The process of genetic expression, including the impact of the environment, is a much more complicated process than we used to think.

Even predicting inherited traits like being left- or right-handed isn’t simple.

One thing both Anne and Robert agree on is that we are just scratching the surface of what we can learn from, and do with, genetic testing.

For instance, right now there are only about 50 tests for 50 diseases that are pretty predictive, and that we can do something about, but only for the 1-3% of Americans that these diseases affect.

Another big issue that we address in the episode is the idea of genetic discrimination. And in spite of a recent law that is intended to prevent this kind of “gene bullying” by health insurers and employers, the law doesn’t cover some of the most important areas, like life insurance companies, disability insurance companies, and long term care insurance companies. And no law can address the subtle discrimination in the workplace that seems likely.

One note: It feels like a bit of “full disclosure” is in order: we were one of the companies that accepted advertising from 23andMe that we pulled when the FDA told them to stop making the claims they were making.

But, as you’ll hear in this week’s episode, Anne and her team are back in full swing with full approval from the feds.

Please join us this Friday at 7 pm EDT on our website, as well as on iTunes Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn, SoundCloud and now, on Google Play Music.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons

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