The next generation is ……. in high school.

What ELSI is new (article)This commentary in the Genomics Law Report’s ongoing series What ELSI is New? is contributed by Dana Waring and Ting Wu, co-founders of the Personal Genetics Education Project.

Personal genetics is just that, it’s personal. Regardless of how many laws or societal norms are in play, any decision an individual makes about knowing or using personal genetic information will ultimately be a personal one, informed by the richness of that individual’s own history and circumstances. Therefore, in order for personal genetics to be adopted in a fair and ethical way, broad-based education is critical. We argue here that the education of high school students may be our most important responsibility and, coincidentally, the most far-reaching, cost-effective, and timely approach for achieving worldwide understanding of the benefits, risks, and ethics of personal genetics.

Let’s assume that predictions are correct, and genome sequencing will be available for less than $1000 US, or equivalent, within five years. If so, current high school students will form the first generation to come of age and face, en masse, the opportunities and consequences of personal genetics. They will be securing first jobs, buying insurance, finding partners, and starting families just as genome sequencing becomes mainstream, allowing them to know themselves, their partners, and their children in unprecedented detail. Will they be prepared?

By focusing educational efforts on high school students, we will ensure that the vast majority of our next generation will have had a chance to understand and debate the complexities of personal genetics. Because infrastructures for educating our youth are in place worldwide, conduits for introducing the concepts of responsible genetics are immediately available. Furthermore, the extant curricula of science, sociology, history, literature, health, and community service offer natural venues for teaching and debate. Our experience with pgEd indicates that high school students find the implications of personal genetics gripping, that targeting educational efforts to them will ensure that the next and subsequent generations will be informed, engaged, and prepared.