Scientific limitations and ethical ramifications of a non-representative Human Genome Project: African American response
- Cite this article as:
- Jackson, F. SCI ENG ETHICS (1998) 4: 155. doi:10.1007/s11948-998-0046-6
The Human Genome Project (HGP) represents a massive merging of science and technology in the name of all humanity. While the disease aspects of HGP-generated data have received the greatest publicity and are the strongest rationale for the project, it should be remembered that the HGP has, as its goal the sequencing of all 100,000 human genes and the accurate depiction of the ancestral and functional relationships among these genes. The HGP will thus be constructing the molecular taxonomic norm for humanity. Currently the HGP genomic baseline is almost exclusively skewed toward North Atlantic European lineages through the extensive use of the Centre d’Études du Polymorphisme Humaine (CEPH) data set. More recently, the HGP has shifted to the use of volunteer donors since adequate informed consent had not been secured from the CEPH families. No evidence exists that either the CEPH families or the current volunteers are the most appropriate demographic or evolutionary lineages for the functional genomic studies that will guide production of new DNA based drugs, targeted therapeutics and gene-based diagnostics. The lack of scientific representativeness of the HGP is a serious impediment to its broad applicability. Yet this can be remedied, and five alternative sampling strategies are presented. In response to the current exclusionary design of the HGP, there is noteworthy caution and skepticism in the African American community concerning genetic studies. The Manifesto on Genomic Studies Among African Americans reflects both a desire to be systematically included in federally funded genomic studies and a desire to maintain some control over the interpretation and application of research results. Representative sampling in the HGP is seen as an international human rights issue with domestic ethical implications.