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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Monday, March 10, 2003


New Europe on the cutting edge
Jason Skie links to this Salon.com article discussing the Estonian government's plan to lease out the rights to the genetic information of pretty much their whole country.
Oil shale, peat, phosphorite, clay, limestone, sand, dolomite, arable land and sea mud -- those are the natural resources that the CIA World Factbook 2002 attributes to Estonia, a small Eastern European republic on the Baltic Sea.

In the next edition, the American spooks should update their list ... with an entry for human DNA.

The newest resources "discovered" in Estonia are the genes of its 1.4 million citizens. The country's government and a Silicon Valley start-up called EGeen International are treating the Estonian gene pool as a commodity to be exploited for medical research and profit.

EGeen owns the exclusive commercial rights to data from the Estonian Gene Bank Project. In March the bank will begin a full-scale effort to collect blood samples and medical histories that will help scientists understand Estonians from the inside out.

You can tell it's Salon both from the term "spooks" and the fact that they go on to hype the "dangers" of this sort of thing , and the opposition to it in some (few) quarters more than the benefits. Quite frankly, I think this sort of thing is brilliant. Why, you ask? Well, I thought it up, originally. Well, sort of. In a short story I scrawled off for a creative writing class last semester, I dropped in an offhand comment about the Czech Republic engaging in a similarly "controversial" project with its citizens (until the EU banned them from it).

But the fact is that, as more and more technology is developed, human beings are going to be something of a resource, and it makes sense for entrepreneurial new capitalist democracies to get in while the getting is good. This is a very good example of that. More elder capitalists England and Iceland have similar programs going, but apparently Estonia is the first to think outside the box and make some dough on it, which is, presumably, what earns them Salon's wry, Dowd-ish attention. The article seems torn four ways between chuckling at the naive nature of this silly little country, disdain that it would try to turn a buck off of its citizenry, paranoia at the"invasive" nature of population genetics, and a wee bit of admiration for the science that's getting done.

Me, I'm in admiration both for the buck turning and the science doing. My molecular biology prof is, by trade, a population geneticist, doing this sort of thing in smaller families, looking for the root causes of various genetic diseases. It's a noble calling, and the fact is tha, while this sort of thing can be invasive, there are well developed protocols for anonymity and privacy already in place. Salon seems to think that this is some sort of new-fangled idear, that could be dangerous if we don't figure out how to use it right, without realizing that scientists have been doing it for years, and have already gotten it figured out pretty well--without their help, thank you very much.

So, bully for you Estonia! Keep up the good work.
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