What is Genom Austria?
The technical possibilities for examining our genetic constitution with genome sequencing are developing quickly. Today, genomes can be sequenced quickly and at a significantly lower cost than in the past. Next-generation sequencing is becoming a common-place technology. Are we prepared for this? The public has hardly grappled with the information that can be gleaned from the genome. The goal of the citizen science project Genom Austria was to break the ice and start a conversation about the possibilities, consequences and necessary framework conditions. The purpose of the project, which unfortunately had to be suspended after the successful pilot phase due to lack of financial support in 2018 was to effectively contribute to raising awareness for the possibilities and consequences of genome sequencing.
In the pilot phase a public dialogue was generated with experts and laypeople alike, who reflected on the meaning of genome sequencing in all its facets. Volunteers were invited to undergo an analysis of their personal genome with state-of-the-art technology and expert advice and then share the data with the public. The pioneers’ genomes are freely accessible via the internet at www.genomeaustria.at and form the basis and illustration material for the broad-based discussion of the possibilities and limits of genome research. Participation in Genom Austria has been voluntary, and the project neither pursues commercial nor diagnostic goals.
For the medicine of the future
Knowledge about human genes and their functions contributes significantly to personal health and the medicine of the future. We are continually advancing our understanding of the correlation between the variations in our genes and specific illnesses, making it possible to provide more precise diagnoses and develop more targeted therapies. Prior genetic knowledge also allows us to be one step ahead of illnesses and counteract these accordingly. A person with a genetic predisposition for cardiovascular disease does not necessarily have to suffer a heart attack. For the most part, we can still control our own destiny and change our lifestyle accordingly.
Work on the genome can significantly contribute to a better understanding of cultural diversity – and thus improve our sense of community. Genome research teaches us the following: There is no reasonable basis for discrimination due to descent, skin color or even illness. The donated genomes illustrate the diversity within our society. The more people understand how much and also how little the genome actually tells us about a person, the less one has to worry about genetic discrimination in the future.