University of Sussex
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Biodigital publics: personal genomes as digital media artifacts

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 19:08 authored by Kate O'Riordan
The recent proliferation of personal genomics and direct-to-consumer (DTC) genomics has attracted much attention and publicity. Concern around these developments has mainly focused on issues of biomedical regulation and hinged on questions of how people understand genomic information as biomedical and what meaning they make of it. However, this publicity amplifies genome sequences which are also made as internet texts and, as such, they generate new reading publics. The practices around the generation, circulation and reading of genome scans do not just raise questions about biomedical regulation, they also provide the focus for an exploration of how contemporary public participation in genomics works. These issues around the public features of DTC genomic testing can be pursued through a close examination of the modes of one of the best known providers—23andMe. In fact, genome sequences circulate as digital artefacts and, hence, people are addressed by them. They are read as texts, annotated and written about in browsers, blogs and wikis. This activity also yields content for media coverage which addresses an indefinite public in line with Michael Warner’s conceptualisation of publics. Digital genomic texts promise empowerment, personalisation and community, but this promise may obscure the compliance and proscription associated with these forms. The kinds of interaction here can be compared to those analysed by Andrew Barry. Direct-to-consumer genetics companies are part of a network providing an infrastructure for genomic reading publics and this network can be mapped and examined to demonstrate the ways in which this formation both exacerbates inequalities and offers possibilities for participation in biodigital culture.


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Science as Culture




Taylor and Francis





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  • Media and Film Publications

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