By Rachel Gross

Before they could start to test students’ DNA, leaders of UC Berkeley’s “On the Same Page: Bring Your Genes to Cal” program were put to the test at a legislative hearing in Sacramento on Tuesday.

The program asks for voluntary DNA samples from incoming freshmen, which will then be analyzed as part of an orientation program meant to unite students under a shared academic experience. But the plan has been polarizing from the outset, drawing fire from bioethicists and watchdog groups. Controversy surrounding the program was covered here on Berkeleyside and on The New York Times Bay Area blog in May.

Groups that opposed the genetic testing, as well as the those overseeing the program, UC Berkeley Dean of Biological Sciences Mark Schlissel and genetics Professor Jasper Rine, were given an opportunity to explain their case to the California State Committee on Higher Education Tuesday.

The hearing was meant “to ensure that UC Berkeley is doing everything legally required and ethically appropriate where student consent, patient privacy, and general program transparency are concerned,” according to a press release from the committee’s chair, Assemblyman Marty Block.

Concerns raised about the testing program were to focus on bioethical and legal issues, as well as students’ right to privacy, The Daily Cal reported Monday. The full story can be found here.

Meanwhile, Schlissel and Rine argued that the program was educational, included a valid consent form and would not violate students’ privacy (the testing is voluntary and anonymous). All DNA samples would be destroyed immediately after the testing, Dr. Schlissel said in an email.

The hearing was informational, and no action was taken to shut the program down, said Block’s spokesperson, Mike Naple.

Today, the committee is also discussing a bill by its vice chair, Assemblyman Chris Norby, which seeks to bar California State University campuses from subjecting students to genetic testing, while requesting that the University of California follow suit.

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