JASONs Ponder Military Role in Gene Research

The technology for sequencing human DNA is advancing so rapidly and the cost is dropping so quickly that the number of individuals whose DNA has been mapped is expected to grow ”œfrom hundreds of people (current) to millions of people (probably within three years),” according to a new report to the Pentagon (pdf) from the JASON defense science advisory panel. The Defense Department should begin to take advantage of the advances in ”œpersonal genomics technology” by collecting genetic information on all military personnel, the panel advised.

The cost of sequencing complete human genomes has been falling by about a factor of 30 per year over the last six years, the JASONs said. As a result, ”œit is now possible to order your personal genome sequenced today for a retail cost of under ~$20,000”³ compared to around $300 million a decade ago. ”œThis cost will likely fall to less than $1,000 by 2012, and to $100 by 2013.”

”œAt costs below $1,000 per genome, a number of intriguing applications of DNA sequencing become cost effective. For example, researchers will have access to thousands or even millions of human genomes to seek correlations between genotypes [i.e. the genetic makeup of individuals] and phenotypes [i.e, the expression of genetic information in observable traits].”

Currently, the understanding of ”œthe linkages between the genotypes of individuals and their phenotypes is limited.” But ”œthe explosion of available human genome sequence data will provide researchers from academia and industry with the genetic information necessary to conduct large-scale efforts to link genetic markers with human traits.”

For military purposes, it will be up to the Department of Defense ”œto determine which phenotypes… have special relevance to military performance and medical cost containment” and then presumably to select for those. ”œThese phenotypes might pertain to short- and long-term medical readiness, physical and medical performance, and response to drugs, vaccines, and various environmental exposures…. More specifically, one might wish to know about phenotypic responses to battlefield stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder, the ability to tolerate conditions of sleep deprivation, dehydration, or prolonged exposure to heat, cold, or high altitude, or the susceptibility to traumatic bone fracture, prolonged bleeding, or slow wound healing.”

”œBoth offensive and defensive military operations may be impacted by the applications of personal genomics technologies through enhancement of the health, readiness, and performance of military personnel. It may be beneficial to know the genetic identities of an adversary and, conversely, to prevent an adversary from accessing the genetic identities of U.S. military personnel.”

Combat in Our Genes?

The Huffington Post, By Jay Stanley, January 14

Born soldiers may say they have “combat in our genes” ”” but a new report suggests the Pentagon may want to give the phrase whole new meaning by turning DNA into the next military battleground.

The report, prepared by a defense science advisory panel known as JASON and reported by Secrecy News [above] and HuffPost’s Dan Froomkin, among others, recommends that the military take advantage of the rapidly falling cost of gene sequencing by preparing to engage in the mass sequencing of the genomes of all military personnel. According to the report, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Veteran’s Administration (VA) may be uniquely positioned to make great advances in this space. DoD has a large population of possible participants that can provide quality information on phenotype and the necessary DNA samples. The VA has enormous reach-back potential, wherein archived medical records and DNA samples could allow immediate longitudinal studies to be conducted.

Specifically, the report recommends that the Pentagon begin collecting sequencing soldiers’ DNA for “diagnostic and predictive applications.” It recommends that the military begin seeking correlations between soldiers’ genotypes and phenotypes (outward characteristics) “of relevance to the military” in order to correlate the two. And the report says ”” without offering details ”” that both “offensive and defensive military operations” could be affected.

This sounds like a bad idea to us.

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