David Ball

What does the Human Genome Mapping Project have to offer alcoholics?

Recent advances in molecular genetics have increased our knowledge ofthe hereditary material to such a level that it is now possible to look for the genes that contribute to alcoholism. Throughout the world the concerted effort by scientists affiliated to the Human Genome Mapping Project is rapidly determining the sequence of the 23 volumes of hereditary information, the chromosomes, that is the human genome. It is estimated that a fIrst draft of this genetic encyclopaedia will be available in the spring of 2000, which will contain some 100,000 gene entries. Subsequently the ‘typographical’ errors that constitute genetic variation and’mutation will be identifIed and as a consequence the multiple small genetic contributions to common and complex diseases elucidated. These findings will effect our lives and have a profound impact upon subsequent generations. Genes and environment interact during the development of alcohol dependence. Finding the genetic contributions will profoundly alter the way we understand this condition and will permit the introduction of improved management policies. New treatments will be developed and targeted to subgroups identifIed by genetic tests. It will also be possible to develop genetic tests that alter an individual predicted risk which could be used for counselling, screening and prevention programmes. Particular benefIts in the future will therefore result from the collaboration between researchers from many diverse disciplines seeking to explore the spectrum off actors in the nature nurture continuum. Whilst this information could be used to reduce morbidity and mortality, such information would also be of interest to those in personnel departments and insurance companies. In the future it may be necessary to provide a genetic curriculum vitae, in the form of a blood sample, prior to obtaining life assurance, a mortgage, job or promotion. In looking forward to this exciting future the important moral and ethical lessons of the past should be heeded and the implications considered and widely debated.