Genetics, mcb, and biochemistry society
Now that the Brexit negotiations are underway many are asking what laws the UK government will seek to change once they have been returned to Westminster. One particular political stance under the watchful eye of the scientific community is GMOs. The EU has been very vocal in its opposition to GMOs in the past, to such an extent that strict legislation governs their cultivation and usage. Their concerns are related to the environment and public health. This article isn’t to convince you that GMOs are safe, but rather to ask: What will Britain do once the GMO legislation comes to London? Will we continue the archaic anti-GMO front of the EU or adopt a more progressive approach to GMOs post Brexit?
In order for a GMO product to be imported or marketed in the EU there are authorisation criteria that must be met. These criteria are incredibly strict and specific (1). The cautious approach to GMOs by the EU has been met by criticism from the scientific community but the position has remained largely unchanged. In fact, during the summer of 2015, the Scottish government made plans to ban the cultivation of GM crops in Scotland. This action was seen as a political action rather than scientific. The Scottish government has a reputation for being progressive and forward thinking in terms of technology and science (2). This move revealed a political motive to distance themselves from the UK government. Many prominent plant researchers in Scotland signed an open letter to the Scottish government warning them about what this ban would mean for research. The ban was pushed forward despite outcry from the Scottish scientific community. This braising action showed that political agendas are dominating the views people have of GMOs.
As Brexit negotiations continue many are wondering if the UK government will become more progressive in terms of GMOs. Only time will tell. The conservatives appear, on the face of it at least, to be more open to the possibility of lifting GMO restrictions post-Brexit. The SNP government in Scotland clearly has other ideas and will no doubt politicise the issue even further. Regardless of political affiliation it should disappoint people that the scientific community is not being properly consulted or listened to on this issue. Sound bites and political sparring have far too much of an impact at such a critical time for our scientific laws and regulations.
There is not much to report as the process of Brexit is still very much young. However one thing is clear: in a country where politics dominates, scientists will need to step up and tell it to the politicians straight. We must change our view on GMOs or face slipping backward economically as more pro-GMO nations such as the US will out-compete us.
(2) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/aug/09/scotland-to-issue-formal-ban- on-genetically-modified-crops
Having your genome sequenced is now as simple as getting an X-ray. Individuals can have their genetic material sequenced for a whole host of reasons. For example, checking for familial defects, precautions in cancer development and some couples even go as far as checking for genetic defects before having kids. As accessibility improves, is this procedure in danger of becoming too easily prescribed and does it pose a danger of creating a paranoid population?
Genome sequencing is now a very accessible as it has become much cheaper in the last few years. Families with suspected genetic defects can be sequenced to analyse their risk factor and help them in family planning. Now more than ever before, physicians are referring patients for genome sequencing to assess cancer risk in the hope of pin-pointing mutations involved in cancer development .
The question being asked is whether seemingly healthy individuals should be sequenced. Justifications for sequencing healthy individuals assert that if you find that one thing in a few individuals, that information could be used to help a much bigger population . bottom line is that knowing more can never be a bad thing. The concern lies with the physicians. The MedSeq project sequenced the genomes of 50 random patients and also took a full family history report. Upon completion of sequencing, 5000 disease associated genes were found per patient alongside 5 million genetic variants per patient . These huge figures were eventually whittled down by a clinical laboratory team who ended up with 200-3300 genetic variants per patient, much less than the initial 5000. This raises an interesting point, if so much filtering and vetting needs to be done post sequencing is it really time for physicians to be doing this sort of work so soon. Results could take weeks to come back and would require expert analysis by genomicists.
There is also the question of causality. Many people hold what would be classified as mutations or genetic defect that will have absolutely no pathogenic effect. Given the intimate relationship people can now have with their medical condition, we run the risk of having an over sequenced and paranoid population.
On the flipside, whole genome sequencing has revolutionised the way we approach certain diseases. It is a wonder of the 21st century and will continue to hone and develop our knowledge of how our genes and diseases interact. In terms of the rate of sequencing among healthy individuals only time will tell. And with compulsory sequencing being whispered in some corners of the health insurance industry, this issue is surely not done with.
 Vassey J et al (2017) The Impact of Whole-Genome Sequencing on the Primary Care and Outcomes of Healthy Adult Patients: A Pilot Randomized Trial. AoIM.