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Ethical questions raised over DNA-tailored cosmetics

By Katie Bird , 01-Aug-2007
Last updated on 30-Jan-2009 at 13:21 GMT2009-01-30T13:21:47Z

The promise of a unique fragrance created from consumer's individual DNA has elicited concerns from both UK and US watchdogs regarding the security of personal genetic information.

My DNA fragrance claims to create a unique fragrance for each customer using the individual's genetic information, promising to 'capture your essence in a bottle, creating a one of a kind fragrance that is exclusively you'. The company sends a small DNA collection kit to customers, which is then returned to the agency and within 7-10 days a unique fragrance is sent to the customer, all for approximately $180. "We use Short Tandem Repeats (STRs) to create a DNA profile from which we develop a fragrance unique to the individual tested using our patent pending coding system" explained Carlton Enoch the company's CEO. He added that 'each individual's DNA is the key to the formulation process', although Enoch was reticent to give any further details of the link between a customers DNA profile and the fragrance, due to the need to protect the company's secret formulation that sets it apart from other perfume houses. Customers are asked to sign a form allowing the company to keep the data on record, for a period of up to five years, although the original sample will be destroyed after 6 months. However the company do state the information will only be used in order to create further fragrances for the individual and say they are 'extremely committed to the confidentiality of our customer's personal data'. Nevertheless, both the US Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG) and Gene Watch UK, non-governmental organisations that aim to represent the public interest on emerging issues in biotechnology, voice worries over the collection and storage of such personal information by private companies. Sheldon Krimsky, acting president of the CRG, told Cosmetics Design that "people don't seem to understand the importance of their privacy and their DNA" likening the security dangers to giving your unique bank account number from which a company could then make a personalised product. The fear over DNA databases surrounds the amount of personal, and often highly controversial, information that they contain about an individual - information that could be useful to a wide range of organisations not least of all law enforcement agencies. For example an individual's propensity for developing certain diseases could be of particular interest to future employees and insurance companies; stopping such information from falling into the wrong hands is of utmost importance. At present federal legislation regarding genetic information is not well developed; the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 provides some protection from discrimination regarding an individual's health data but the National Human Genome Research Institute worry that significant gaps remain and legislation designed specifically for genetic data is sorely needed. Helen Wallace of Gene Watch UK told Cosmetics Design that she expected products such as these to increase in numbers as the technology for genetic testing becomes cheaper and more accessible. She notes that this will lead to more databases with information on a larger proportion of the population - databases that in the UK can be searched by the police if they can persuade a jury it is in the public interest. Furthermore, adding that the regulation of such products in the UK is similarly in very early stages she advocated a 'buyer beware' policy in order to protect consumers interest. The proliferation of this type of product, likely to continue as consumers look for individuality in a world of mass produced consumer goods, emphasises the need for extensive legislation on the security of personal genetic information.

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