complete genetic makeup of individuals could soon be scanned and
recorded on a smart card, says a leading scientist.
Scientists have decoded human
But pressure groups say that the "genetic identity cards" could
lead to discrimination without much benefit to the citizen.
Sir Paul Nurse, the chief executive of Cancer Research UK,
predicts that the process of unravelling a human genome could be
completed far more swiftly in future.
In a speech to
the Royal Society's People's Science Summit, he said he could
foresee a time - perhaps within 20 years - when the entire genetic
code of every newborn baby would be recorded.
We need to be extremely careful how this
technology is used to shape our society
Sir Paul Nurse, Cancer Research UK
This, he said, might eventually help predict vulnerability to
common diseases - and help individuals avoid illness by taking
But Sir Paul said that the advances risked leading to "genetic
apartheid" as insurers and employers ruled out people with genetic
Sir Paul, awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2001, said: "In
1985, it took three years to decode a single gene - now we can
sequence the entire human genome in just a few years.
"The American scientist Craig Venter is already offering the very
rich to buy a map of their genomes at a staggering $710,000
(£450,000), but even he anticipates selling them for much less in
years to come."
Combination of factors
He said some genetic tests - for less common conditions such as
Huntington's disease and cystic fibrosis - could predict future
disease with some accuracy.
But he insisted more common diseases such as cancer and heart
disease were likely to be the result of a combination of many
different genes alongside lifestyle factors such as poor diet or
He said: "We need to be extremely careful how this technology is
used to shape our society - this issue is too important to be left
to scientists and policy makers alone."
Dr Helen Wallace, from the pressure group Genewatch, said that
the public was being "misled" by promises that a map of their genome
could offer certainty about their future health.
"Although gene tests can be very useful, there is no way you
could use them to predict common disease."
"What we could end up with is a massive DNA database by the back