Affiliated staffRuth Chadwick, Soren Holm, Win Tadd
Nutrigenomics is an emerging field exploring relationship between nutrition and genes; diet and health. While nutrigenetics is the study of the genetic differences between individuals that affect response to foods and food ingredients so that dietary recommendations can be given based on one’s genome profile, nutrigenomics focuses on genome wide research into the genetic factors (including whole genes, single nucleotide polymorpshims (SNPs) and copy number variants (CNVs) that are linked with these differential responses and which might be helpful in targeting public health goals based on gene-nutrient relationship. Applications of nutrigenomics in healthcare may be promised for individuals in terms of personalised dietary advice; and for populations through identifying susceptible groups: focusing on their physiological needs might be a step to prevent genetic correlations of diseases.
The nutrigenomics project explored the emerging ethical, social and policy issues in applications of nutrigenomics. The objectives of the project were:
• Analyse future trajectories of nutrigenomics research and use• To conduct an ethical analysis of current status and possible trends
The project revolved around two major strands:
Conceptual: The conceptual strand focused on identifying emerging ethical concerns as nutritional genomics begin to deliver results for potential applications. Whereas individual nutrigenetic testing for dietary recommendations raises issues of autonomy, choice and boundaries between food and medicine; nutrigenomics challenges its applicability for public health, research into practice; the role of health practitioners and issues of allocation.
Empirical: The empirical strand involved researching contemporary trajectories of nutrigenomics from quantitative and qualitative angles; focusing on research and commercial trends; and potential implications for society.
• Quantitative study:
The quantitative study involved identifying quantifiable indicators, the commercial and market trends in functional foods and nutrigenomics; and how different institutions in relevant fields such as nutrition, genomics, law relate to each other. This work has been pursued with webography for gathering and analysing data.
• Qualitative study
This involved conducting semi-structured interviews with scientists, dieticians and food policy experts, exploring the potential of nutrigenomics in dietary advice and implications for public health management.
• The dynamics of the health food market are dependent on the research industry ,which may involve small Contract Research Organisations (CROs) that mostly exist in partnership with large agriculture, pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
• Research showed that big European countries such as France and UK still lead the Research and Development of Functional Foods through partnerships with a large number of CROs and SMEs in Europe.
• The research also showed that the US leads the market dominance of functional foods rather than Japan where the concept originated initially, and there is a substantial difference in the consumption levels of functional foods between US and rest of the world.
• Nutrigenomics is a very active research area, but there is less interaction between the functional food industry and nutrigenomics research industry. There is relatively less commercialisation due to the novelty of the science, except in relation to the nutrigenetic tests being sold direct-to-consumer.
• A communication gap exists between practitioners, health professionals and genomic scientists. The inconsistency in communication delivers confusing messages to consumers about their health and diet.
• There are several understandings of personalisation, but no clear definition. It is used both at individual and group level. These unclear definitions result in potential contradictions issues concerning the ethics of dietary advice.
Bhardwaj, M. (2011) The applications of omics technologies and the challenges of ethics in nutritional sciences in Genomics and Bioethics: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Technologies and Advancements edited by Soraj Hongladarom, Director Centre for Ethics of Science and Technology, Chulalongkorn University, ThailandChadwick, R. (2010) ‘Nutrigenomics and statistical power: the ethics of genetically informed nutritional advice’ in D. Bagchi et al., Genomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics in Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods, Iowa: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 23-33,
R. Chadwick (2009). ‘Nutrigenomics’ in P.Atkinson, P.Glasner and M.Lock (eds) Handbook of Genetics and Society: Mapping the New Genomic Era, London: Routledge 94-103
M. Bhardwaj (2009). Background paper for UNESCO (Asia-Pacific). Ethics of commercialisation of individualism and public health in genomics: some reflections on nutrigenomics.
M. Bhardwaj (2008). Eating to Order: Consumers, business and the media have a big appetite for nutrigenomics. But is it really as nourishing as is claimed? ESRC Genomics Network Newsletter, 2008
M. Bhardwaj (2007). From farm to pharma: public health challenges of nutrigenomics. Personalised medicine, 4 (4), pp. 423-430
R. Chadwick (2003) Nutrigenomics, Individualism and Public Health, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Kings College, London (2003), pp. 161-166
The work of the project fed into the Fourth Report of the Panel of Eminent Ethical Experts of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 2011) - available here.
The project benefitted from the advice of Professor Larry Busch.For further information, please contact