Holiday Shoppers May Soon Purchase Genetic Testing Kits; Author's New Book Predicts Implications of Such Advances

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Israeli author Kfir Luzzatto's new book, "The Odyssey Gene," addresses genetic discrimination, which could be a very real concern in the near future. Scientists say that by 2010 we will be able to purchase genetic testing kits for the mere price of $100. "The Odyssey Gene" shares the tale of one man's plight to overcome the discrimination he faces after such a test discloses he is different from other people.

But genetic information can also be misused

Slipper socks, gift cards, video games, fruit cakes and genetic testing kits.

Yes, it's true — a new perfect gift for that special someone. Scientists say that we will be able to purchase genetic testing kits as early as 2010 for the mere price of $100. Those experts continue to say that while understanding our genetic make up will have its benefits, many Americans fear the effect of employers, health insurance providers and government officials obtaining that information.

This impending issue is foreshadowed in Kfir Luzzatto's latest novel, "The Odyssey Gene" (Echelon Press Publishing, July 2006). In his book, Luzzatto explores genetic discrimination through his leading character, John, who takes a routine test that ultimately reveals his immunity to a contagious disease. The outcome exposes a society — including John's friends and family — that victimizes people with medical advantages such as his.

According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, Luzzatto's tale isn't that far off. The group has declared that decades of research on the human genome have yielded a wealth of information. Individual genes or sets of genes that are associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes and certain forms of cancer have been mapped and sequenced and offer hope that maladies such as these can be diagnosed, treated and perhaps cured owing to this technology.

"But genetic information can also be misused," the institute reports. "It can be used to discriminate against people in health insurance and employment … This may lead some people to decide against genetic testing for fear of what the results might show, and who might find out about them."

Like the National Genome Research Institute, the American Medical Association stated that hundreds of cases have been documented of people or their relatives who have lost jobs or insurance coverage based on reported genetic "abnormalities."

In fact, a November 2005 article in New Scientist magazine said, "Evidence is growing that employers and insurers are discriminating against people whose genes make them susceptible to serious diseases. In the most complete survey yet of possible discrimination, around one in 12 people who have taken a genetic test said they had been disadvantaged as a result — for example, by being denied appropriate life insurance."

Author Luzzatto, whose 2003 novel "Crossing the Meadow" was voted Best Horror Novel in the 2003 Preditors and Editors Reader's Poll, said his own experience with discrimination spurred him to write "The Odyssey Gene." As a child in the post-fascist era in Italy, he encountered anti-Semitism. Later, at the age of 16, he and his family emigrated from Italy to Israel and it was there that Luzzatto saw how various ethnic groups discriminated against one another.

"Amazed by the stupidity of those who practice discrimination in its various forms, I decided to make it one of the subjects of my writing," said Luzzatto. "… I do believe that 'The Odyssey Gene' is unique in its purpose and in the way it pursues it. This is fiction with a purpose and it aims at promoting an inner sense of disgust at the roots and results of blind discrimination. Behind it is my belief that, words that explain an emotional phenomenon cannot but fail to leave a long-lasting impression on the reader."

About Dr. Kfir Luzzatto

Luzzatto is a patent attorney who has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He is a former spokesman for the Israeli Defense Force on reserve duty for 25 years.

In addition to his creative work, Luzzatto has published "The World of Patents" as well as many articles for professional journals and magazines related to the field of patent law. His professional awards include the Distinction Trombki Award and the Landau Award for Research.

He now resides in Omer, Israel, with his wife and four children. For more information, visit http://www.TheOdysseyGene.com.

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