August 13th, 2010
04:42 PM ET

Berkeley adjusts its freshman gene project

About 600 University of California, Berkeley’s incoming freshmen who submitted their saliva samples for a controversial genetic testing program will not receive their individual results, by order of the state’s public health department.

Berkeley’s class of 2014 were invited to send their saliva samples along with a signed consent form for a freshmen bonding and educational activity. Most colleges usually assign a summer reading.

The ambitious, voluntary program, “Bring your genes to Cal” raised plenty of eyebrows among geneticists and ethicists. How would students' privacy be protected?  Would they be informed on interpreting the results?  What would happen to the samples?

Jasper Rine, a Berkeley genetics professor, had said that the samples would be given barcodes to keep students anonymous. “All the samples are destroyed. And we will have no access to any link between the information on any of these three genes and any individual student,” he told CNN in May.

The school’s genetics laboratory was to test the samples for three gene variants that would show how the person metabolizes milk, alcohol and folic acid. Each student who submitted a sample was to get his or her result pertaining to those gene variants.  The campus would hold lectures, discussions and classes about genetic testing in the fall. About 12 percent of the 5,000 incoming freshmen and transfers students participated.

But the California Department of Public Health was not so keen on the plan.

The agency has said that this type of test needs to be done at medical diagnostic laboratories, to ensure accuracy and reliability.  And no, the school did not qualify for exemption.

The university can still test the samples, but it cannot release the information to the individual participants. Read more about it here.

Meanwhile, Berkeley’s rival, Stanford University also has a genetic testing program (it’s for medical and graduate students only) that has attracted a lot less fanfare or controversy, according to the Scientific American.  Read about the comparison here.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. blinky

    Who pays for these tests? CA is short of funds for fundamental aspects of their educational system and many major cities have huge backlogs in the DNA testing for rape kits, yet somehow there is money available to find out if freshmen are lactose intolerant!!

    August 13, 2010 at 17:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. StokeyBob

    Chapter 1. The Good

    You mentioned genetic testing being a good thing.

    It can be.

    Say you’re an orphan, or know of some genetic defect in you family, or are worried that something may be hiding that you could benefit by knowing about. Maybe you decide the $1000.00 is worth spending to have the test done. That information could help you protect yourself by taking certain precautions.

    Chapter 2. The Bad

    Now say you decide that you may be able to benefit by having me tested. You’ve paid for the test and you’ve got the results. Now maybe protection for you is to see that I am not able to see the specialist or have certain test that could cost you down the road.

    Chapter 3. The Ugly

    And now to get really deep and on a different slant on the topic.

    Say the government has convinced you that it is a good thing for them to do the test for you.

    They pay for it. They get the results. What are their motives?

    And to top it off. They have no money to pay for it. They print it up out of thin air and devalue the money you have with inflation.

    See it’s like say you have all the money in the world. Say it’s a Brazillian dollars. They print up a Brizillion dollars to do the testing and all of a sudden your Brazillion is worth only half as much.

    That is what counterfeiting does.

    That is what they have been doing.

    That may be why so many people can’t keep up with them and can no longer afford to work.

    August 14, 2010 at 06:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Brian L.

    @Blinky: There is dedicated money to run this program every year. When I was a freshman, we all received a copy of a book (that I didn't read).

    August 15, 2010 at 02:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Cynthia Eubanks

    I just found out that Micheal Douglas have throat cancer can't anyone do something about the tobacco company's my stepfather died from cancer he was a heavy smoker also.tobacco kills millions and milllions of people a day yet we let the cigarrete co get a away with this they are responsible for many deaths.....just venting

    August 17, 2010 at 16:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Joyce Stengel

    Dr. Sanjay Gupta; Thank you, thank you, thank you, for the up-date on Yousef. I thought of him all the time, even asked you for an up-date. He looks great, he even seems to be adjusting great. I'm glad his parents decided to stay in the USA. I hope he gets all his education here in the states. I'm glad his Father speaks English, congradulations on the new baby. I hope,when Iraq is stable, he goes back to help his own people as a Doctor! Please help him all the way. Thanks again, and God Bless, Joyce Stengel

    August 18, 2010 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply

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