Genetics-based products and backlash

The Boston Globe has an article today about the proliferation of genetics-based consumer marketing:

Genetics-based products stir concerns

And not just genome scans–they mean stuff like face creams and shampoos.  I actually didn’t realize that Proctor and Gamble had sequenced the dandruff fungus genome.

But they make 2 points that are also my worries in this area.  One is about elevated expectations–which is already underway.  And the other is backlash.  This one hasn’t fully come to play in personal genomics (but certainly has on GMO plants).  It could hurt real science and real progress if people get frustrated about what isn’t known, or about acting on information that turns out later to be incorrect.

It was nice to see this addressed in the popular press.  I agree with the closing comment completey:

Dr. Robert Green, a genetics fellow at Harvard Medical School, said the potential is great, but if genetics are used purely as a marketing tool on products that can’t live up to their promise, it could be dangerous. “Many of us in genetics think this is one of the greatest dangers to the field – that the legitimate field of genetics will be overwhelmed by a kind of popular pseudoscience that will delegitimize and confuse the actual scientific potential,” he said.

This is what has happened to the very effective public health tool: vaccines.  One of the reasons I like to follow the vax pseudoscience is to figure out how to prevent it around genomics.  But I’m afraid pseudoscience has a life of its own and only time and good science will work.  But consumers may not have the patience for that.

A nice article that examines the vaccines-autism wars is available from PLoS today: A Broken Trust: Lessons from the Vaccine–Autism Wars