06 April 2017

"Scientists have found a gene that..."

Where to dispel myths about genetics

TSU and Goldsmith University have launched the TAGC website, which tells about the latest achievements in the field of genetics in an accessible form. The information is published in English and Russian, the authors are leading Russian and foreign scientists.

Do you understand the pun "Thymine, Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine"? – VM

The Accessible Genetics Consortium (TAGS) was founded in 2015 when TSU and Goldsmith University signed a cooperation agreement. The main goal of the consortium is to disseminate accessible knowledge about genetics. 

– Scientific articles are published every day, the amount of knowledge is huge, but they do not reach the general public and remain elitist simply because people without special training do not understand them. And our goal is to broadcast scientific knowledge in an accessible way," comments a junior researcher at the Laboratory of Cognitive Research and Psychogenetics, coordinator of the Russian–language version of the site Maxim Likhanov.

On the website, scientists comment on scientific articles on genetics, explaining the essence of research in popular language. There is also a section where basic terms are revealed, and a section of answers to questions. Resource coordinators collect interesting and reliable information in their opinion, respond to articles in popular English newspapers (for example, the Daily Mail).

– Every day we see headlines in the spirit of "Scientists have found a gene responsible for aggressive behavior." But the fact is that these are probabilistic estimates, not absolute ones. This simply means that if certain genetic and external conditions coincide, a person will show a tendency to aggression. But it does not mean that he will be one hundred percent like that," notes Maxim Likhanov.

An international group of experts is working on the site, among them – barrister of England and Wales, Prosecutor of New York Fatos Selita, Professor of Genetics and Psychology Yulia Kovas, Professor of the Psychological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergey Malykh, Deputy Director of the International Center for Human Development Studies Olga Bogdanova, PhD student Robert Chapman, coordinator of the English version, and others. The authors pay special attention to issues related to the ethical and legal aspects of genetics.

– Genome sequencing is becoming cheaper, potentially soon each of us will have a decoding of our own genome, but it is unclear what to do with this knowledge, – says Maxim Likhanov. – There are a lot of ethical and legal issues, but no one knows how to solve them yet. For example, a person has been found to have some kind of genetic disease - is it worth informing his relatives that they may also potentially have it? Or to keep personal information secret without preventing illness in any of the relatives? 

Another ethical issue, the scientists note, is who will store genetic data and who will have access to it: the state, doctors, insurance agencies or anyone else. In the USA, since 2008, there has been an act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of genetic information, in Russia there are no such state documents yet. All these issues are also discussed on the TAGS website.

The experts of the site are teachers of the interdisciplinary master's program of TSU "Human Development: genetics, neuroscience and psychology". Undergraduates of this program also take part in filling the resource. Coordinator of the Russian version Maxim Likhanov invites students, teachers, scientists to join the project: translators, lawyers, potential authors. Those interested can write to the mail maximus.minimus@mail.ru .

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru  06.04.2017

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