Bermuda, ethics, and the Human Genome Project

Bermuda is currently hosting a scientific conference on the topic of the Bermuda Principles’ Impact on Splicing.

Splicing is a mechanism that lies at the heart of proper gene regulation. Any failure or glitch within this mechanism causes problems, resulting in disease. Cancer is one of the many diseases where mis-splicing is commonly found. Therefore, many cancer research programs are targeted at correcting mis-splicing for the purposes of furthering cancer treatment. Prior to the completion of the Human Genome Project, the sequence of each gene was unknown. Now, with gene sequences freely available, mini-constructs can be made within a controlled environment that mimic what is happening inside the cell. For example, by manipulating various conditions, studies have found which factors cause proper and improper splicing of onco-genes. The results of this research have led to innovative therapies for many diseases.

What does Bermuda have to do with all of this?

Well, in February 1996, Bermuda became a part of scientific history. At the International Strategy Meeting on Human Genome Sequencing, 50 scientists from the UK and USA selected the island as a neutral meeting location.

Their goal? To negotiate the completion of The Human Genome Project (HGP). 

 Between 1990 and 2003 numerous labs undertook a mission to sequence the complete human genome. With this extensive collaboration came uncertainty about the fate of the gene sequences once deduced. Would each lab obtain a patent on their sequenced gene and sell this for profit? Or would they all be made publicly available to advance scientific research?

To the benefit of global society, this collection of scientists held strong to the conviction that medical advancement should overrule financial gain.

An agreement, entitled The Bermuda Principles, cemented the legacy of these values and all gene sequences were issued freely to the worldwide community.

The key Bermuda Principles are these:

  • Automatic release of sequence assemblies larger than 1 kb (preferably within 24 hours).
  • Immediate publication of finished annotated sequences.
  • Aim to make the entire sequence freely available in the public domain for both research and development in order to maximise benefits to society.

The impact of The Bermuda Principles on the pace and depth of scientific research has been incredibly under-appreciated. However, the Bermuda Principles have been pivotal to scientific medical advancement and they have set a solid ethical precedent for future research.

The opportunity now exists for Bermuda to again become a central figure in the continuation of these principles.

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