Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

  1.  The BBSRC is Britain's lead agency for academic research in the non-medical life sciences. Its remit is to promote and support high quality research and training relating to the understanding and exploitation of biological systems, and thereby to meet the needs of users which include the pharmaceutical, healthcare, food and biotechnology industries.

  2.  The BBSRC has no plans to assemble human genetic databases. However, it is highly likely that such databases, primarily developed for medical purposes, will provide a valuable tool for obtaining deeper insight into human biology, evolution, diversity and the interaction of man with diet and environment. Much of this knowledge will underpin future healthcare developments in the longer term.

  3.  Comparative studies between human genetic data and that from other species, eg mouse and established non-vertebrate models such as C.elegans, Drosophila and yeast, will improve our understanding of basic biological principles. It will also refine our understanding of the extent and limitations of such species as model systems in healthcare research, thereby underpinning the great majority of such research which is not carried out on humans, and helping to reduce the proportion of such work which will need to be done on higher animals.

  4.  Research into the genetic basis of human and mammalian biology is highly unlikely to require information which is linked to named individuals. However, it is in the nature of bioinformatics research that datasets may be repeatedly analysed by different researchers in different ways, combining and comparing information. It is this depth and flexibility which justifies the high cost of collection and of generating and maintaining databases.

  5.  Consequently, whilst very great care needs to be taken in establishing, developing, maintaining and protecting data which can potentially be linked back to individuals, thought needs to be given to ensuring that datasets of potential value to wider biological and medical research can be made available to the research community on an unattributable basis.

August 2000

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