When you went to college, did you have to do any “pre-admission” assignments? Maybe you had to read a particular book or watch a certain movie. In past years, the University of California at Berkeley has assigned incoming freshmen and transfer students to read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma , and A Briefer History of Time, by Stephen Hawking.
But this year, Berkeley is engaging in a more modern experiment. When students receive their welcome packets this year, they will find a package containing cotton swabs and bar code stickers. In preparation for the school’s “On the Same Page” program, sponsored by the College of Letters and Sciences, students are asked to voluntarily submit to a DNA test. They are instructed to swipe the swabs inside their cheek, insert the swabs in the mailing packaging provided, label them with the provided bar code stickers, and send them in for analysis.
Once the results are in, students will be able to access their information – which will be kept in a secure online database – using the barcode. And then they will be able to participate in the orientation program.
The idea behind the course is to identify areas in a student’s lifestyle that can be improved; the tests will analyze each sample for three genes: metabolism of folate, tolerance of lactose and metabolism of alcohol
Alix Schwartz, director of academic planning for the college’s undergraduate division, said, “This is a very participatory way to get them to engage in the conversation, to have something to talk about with their fellow students and with the faculty.” The college will host a website with optional readings, a public lecture, and a series of panel discussions on legal and ethical issues related to the emergence of personalized genomic technologies.
Schwartz continued, saying that faculty from throughout the college “are pretty excited about exploring all the issues around personalized medicine because it’s so controversial.” Regardless of “what kind of disciplinary leanings the students have, we think there will be something that connects them to this at an intellectual or personal level.”
“Science is moving so fast right now,” said Schwartz. “If we assigned them a book, it would be out-of-date by the time they read it.”
For students who do not wish to participate in the DNA submission, there will be a variety of events and lectures on lifestyle choices.
Does anyone else feel skeevy about this program?