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New Marchant book delves into genomics, regulation

November 26, 2008

Professor Gary Marchant, of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, recently co-edited a book that examines a major new use for genomic research - setting environmental policy and regulation - which he and others believe will raise profound ethical, legal and policy challenges in society.

Genomics and Environmental Regulation: Science, Ethics, and Law (The Johns Hopkins University Press) features chapters written by a variety of experts from academia, government, industry, and nongovernmental organizations. Contributors, in addition to Marchant, the executive director of the College's Center of Law, Science, & Technology, are Center Director Andrew Askland, law professor Jim Nickel, and Kenneth Mossman, a professor of health physics in the ASU College of Life Sciences.

The book's other co-editors are Richard R. Sharp, director of Bioethics Research at the Cleveland Clinic, and Jamie A. Grodsky, an associate professor at The George Washington University Law School.

Although the biomedical applications of genomic research, such as understanding the many mysteries of human disease and revolutionizing the practice of medicine, have grabbed many headlines, the editors suggest that the non-clinical uses of genomics will generate contentious social debates in the future.
"Recent advances in genomics suggest that certain individuals and groups may have genetic profiles associated with increased susceptibility to the harmful effects of environmental toxins," they wrote. "As those susceptibilities are better understood - and it becomes possible to identify individuals who are at risk of developing significant health problems when exposed to pollutant levels below levels deemed `safe' for the general population - regulators will be confronted with a dilemma."

Will they provide a level of protection for these populations that may be economically burdensome, and perhaps impossible? Or will they decide to exclude these groups from environmental protection, and at what political and ethical cost, the editors asked.

The book is divided into four parts - the manner in which genomic technologies may shape environmental-policy debates; specific legal issues raised by new genomic data; the manner in which genomic technologies may affect the workplace; and broad philosophical questions raised by the application of genomic technologies to environmental regulation.
For readers new to genomics and its application to environmental regulation, the editors included the executive summary of a recent National Research Council report, "Applications of Toxicogenomic Technologies to Predictive Toxicology and Risk Assessment." It presents a concise overview of the current state of the science and considers the types of genomic discoveries that likely are to be made in the near future and uncertainties associated with them.

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law