RAND > ISE > Projects & Resources > Our Future, Our Environment > Rosetta Stone

The chemical that carries the information necessary to produce all life on Earth.

Exponential gains in computing power and biological insight have begun to converge, giving us the opportunity to learn our own genetic code and a start at understanding what it means.

Many have suggested that we are standing at the dawn of the genomics era.

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The Next 20 Years

Genomic technologies will: 

  • move the frontiers of environmental protection inside the human body;
  • increase options for diagnosis, early intervention, and prevention;
  • increase the involvement of doctors, insurance companies, diagnostic equipment manufacturers, drug companies, and others in environmental protection;
  • redefine the roles of regulatory agencies at both domestic and international levels;
  • possibly shift greater responsibility for environmental health toward individuals;
  • and raise a host of new issues involving access, equity, and discrimination.

While this new era offers untold opportunities for better health, longer lives, and richer human understanding, it will also present some weighty challenges. Many who have examined emerging genetic technologies have called for more social dialogue -- more public involvement in charting our future in the soon to be changed human landscape.

This chapter offers up possible future scenarios and explores some of the issues that may naturally arise for environmental policy. In choosing a future, we must decide how to use the very personal information that genetic technologies will allow us to obtain. The scenarios demonstrate some of the problems inherent in those choices -- from the courtroom battle where genetic evidence can be a sword or shield, to the grocery store where genomics may influence the products we buy, to an overseas industrial facility where genomic technologies may be either a safety net for under protected workers or yet another inequity to be suffered.

No one can be sure where the technology is headed or when it will arrive. We can be sure that we will be in a far better position to reap the benefits while avoiding the perils if we prepare for them today.

Next Section: Introduction

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