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Science and Technology Studies

New Book Delves Into Genomics Issues
New Book Delves Into Genomics Issues

In his recently published book, Promising Genomics, Mike Fortun, associate professor of science and technology studies and co-editor of Cultural Anthropology, the journal of the American Anthropological Association, maps the contemporary genomics landscape at a time when society must ask questions about what “life” is made of in the age of DNA, databases, and derivative trading.

Part detective story, part exposé, and part travelogue, Promising Genomics investigates one of the signature biotech stories of our time and, in so doing, opens a window onto the high-speed, high-tech, and high-finance world of genome science. In the book, Fortun investigates how deCODE Genetics, a company licensed to create Iceland’s healthcare database, became one of the wealthiest companies of its kind, as well as one of the most scandalous, with its plan to use the genes and medical records of the entire Icelandic population for scientific research.

Fortun has been at the forefront of the genomics debate in Iceland. He was awarded a fellowship to spend the 2000-2001 academic year at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), in Princeton, N.J., exploring the ethical, legal, and social challenges presented by the Information Age. He used the year at the IAS to author the book Promising Genomics, based on dozens of interviews he collected on trips to Iceland.

“The deCODE events turn out to be a small-scale preview of what has recently happened to the entire country of Iceland: oversold in a hyper-speculative economy, the once high-flying deCODE is no longer traded on NASDAQ and the entire nation has now been bankrupted,” says Fortun. “The same political alliance that hyped deCODE’s project let the Icelandic banks speculate and lend freely—now the banks are nationalized, and the government has fallen after massive public protests. My book is a cautionary tale with wide relevance.”

Promising Genomics is published by the University of California Press.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2009 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.