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Wednesday, October 12
SESSION 20 – ASHG Presidential Address: From
Classroom to Courtroom to Clinic: Closing the
Education Gaps in Human Genetics
Room 210, Level 2, Convention Center
Lynn B. Jorde
ASHG 2011 President
Univ. of Utah, USA
Human genetics is now applied in a wide variety of
contexts, and the public profile of our science
continues to grow steadily. This is a positive and
gratifying trend. It reflects the fundamental significance
of human genetics and its translational power.
However, as human genetics becomes more popular,
the risks of misunderstanding and misapplication
increase. For example, a large proportion of physicians
report that they do not fully understand the results of
most genetic tests. Furthermore, these tests are
sometimes promoted without adequate evidence of
accuracy or validity. Genetic tests can offer important
insights about disease, but much of the public
perceives them to be more informative than they really
are. To make informed decisions, healthcare
practitioners, as well as the lay public, need practical
information on the nature and value of genetic data.
In addition to its biomedical applications, our science
has had a major impact in courtrooms throughout the
world. Forensic DNA evidence is now used routinely in
criminal cases, and it can help to convict the guilty
and exonerate the innocent. Significant questions
arise, however, about the value and desirability of
forensic DNA databases (who should be included, and
what information should be available?). Genetic testing
for variants that may be associated with behavioral
traits has been introduced in a number of criminal
cases and has sometimes resulted in reduced
sentences. Judges and juries are faced with
increasingly complex evidence, and their decisions
should be informed by high-quality science.
Ironically, some of this high-quality science remains
largely unappreciated. The principle of evolution
provides one of the most powerful explanatory
frameworks in modern science, but it is often ignored
or misrepresented. We should enhance the public’s
awareness of evolution by emphasizing its utility. Not
only does evolution tell us about our past, it also helps
to explain (and even to predict) important phenomena
such as drug resistance and the origins of some
common diseases.
Cameras and all other recording devices are
strictly prohibited
in all session rooms. Thank you for your cooperation
As scientists and educators, we have many
opportunities to communicate our research to other
scientists and to the public. This presentation will
highlight some of the ways in which we can use the
opportunities to foster a realistic and healthy
appreciation of the growing benefits of human