A new UK centre for research into the social implications of genetic advances was officially launched on March 3. The Egenis (Economic and Social Research Council Centre for Genomics in Society) Centre, based at the University of Exeter, aims to study 'the meaning and social implications of contemporary genomic science'. Journalists and academics attending the launch were offered an alcohol sensitivity gene test, provided by UK firm Sciona, before attending a debate on genetic testing.
The centre will study the social issues surrounding embryo stem cell research, genetic modification and genetic privacy. It will also work with the medical and legal professions on the use of genetic information by employers and insurers, and the risk of genetic discrimination. Egenis researchers will particularly focus on how the meaning of key words such as 'gene' change as they pass from scientific into more general use. 'As we find out more about how genes work and how they vary, it turns out to be very complex to say where genes start and end' said centre director Professor John Dupre. 'But the language has filtered down into general use and people find it convenient'. Egeneis is one of three ESRC genomics centres, and has secured £2.5.M initial funding for five years.