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Germany

Public Acceptance for Genetic Technology Raises Questions

With a DNA design shop, a Bremen project simulated the futue of gene technology and showed broad acceptance for the controversial issue. DW-WORLD spoke with the shop's organizer about the implications of such a response.

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If the Bremen project is a true indicator, the public seems ready for genetic products.

The “Chroma Soma” genetic shop project in Bremen has opened the eyes of many people within the scientific, political and social sector. With so many members of the public willing to believe that the experiment was an authentic establishment selling products which could allow parents to design their babies before birth, help clone individuals, eradicate genetic abnormalities and wipe clean DNA traces, questions quickly arose on the subject of the public’s growing acceptance of this seemingly imminent technology.

The project, a "field-study" organized by the Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung (Federal Center for Political Education) and Leipzig-based artist Alf Thum, has caused quite a stir in the run-up to a congress on genetic research which began on Tuesday in Bremen. Deutsche Welle talked to the president of the Federal Center for Political Education, Thomas Krüger, on the impact of the “Chroma Soma” project.

The Federal Agency for Civic Education has worked together with “Chromo Soma” to open the first genetic product shop in Germany . What was the aim of the project?

“Chroma Soma” simulates a time when the genetic industry has products coming to the marketplace. It is a ‘business’ that implies that in the near future, genetic goods will be of interest to consumers. It is a mixture of the esoteric and professional, giving the customer an impression of attaining the product, when actually it may be some way from becoming available. It offers products like “book-a-baby” which allows women to choose precisely when they wish to start a pregnancy, as well as selecting their baby's genetic traits. “Chroma Soma” serves as an illusion and an art project - the agency has worked closely with Leipzig-based artist Alf Thum – but also as a wake-up call to the debate on genetics among the public.

Do you think the gene shop is something awaiting us in the future – or is it something you could imagine happening now?

I can imagine that the time isn’t that far away for someone to enter the gene market. Acceptance among consumers may begin to grow. Next to information science, life science is going to play an important role in the 21st century. An explosive number of processes are going to be set in motion. That’s why, already at this stage, we need to determine how such a market should develop, what it should look like, and what it should be allowed to do and what it shouldn’t. We also need to determine to what degree freedom in decision-making should be given to the individual in areas like preventative health measures for their own lives, healing illnesses and determining the genetic future of children. That needs to be openly debated and negotiated.

How will these ‘explosive’ processes be regulated? They will surely be two-sided: on the positive, illnesses can be cured; on the negative, there’s the danger that they will be open to abuse.

We can get a grip on these problems through legal regulations and through procedural regulations. One thing is certain, that the risk will just be reduced. These new areas urgently need regulative order. That is what the politicians require. That is also what the medical practitioners and the geneticists require. And, after all, it is also what the individual and our organization requires. That is the reason for our involvement. These procedures and laws must appear legitimate.

The congress “Good Genes, Bad Genes” is taking place in Bremen over the next few days to address this subject. What do you expect from this congress?

With this congress, we are opening up these important and highly political questions to debate. It is one of the principles of civic education to learn through conflict and controversy. So people will have to come to a decision: what position do you support? The second important component of this congress is that the public is made aware of the implications of genetic technology.

I am really amazed so many people visited “Chroma Soma.” The analysis of that will be discussed at the congress. I am very curious how the people there and the public as a whole will react.

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