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A legislative hearing today will examine a controversial UC Berkeley program in which new students are being asked to spit in a tube so the university can test their DNA.

Campus officials describe "Bring Your Genes to Cal" as an orientation project designed to introduce new students to Berkeley's intellectual rigors. Each year the college chooses a theme that new students and faculty will explore from various perspectives. This year's theme is personalized medicine. Instead of assigning students a book to read, the university sent them DNA kits over the summer and asked them to submit a saliva sample. The samples will be tested for three genes -- those involved in breaking down lactose, metabolizing alcohol and absorbing folates.

The program is optional for students, and their saliva samples are anonymous -- students are the only ones who will have access to the results of their tests, using a bar code number. Still, the project has drawn criticism from some bioethicists and genetic watchdog groups, including the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley and the Council for Responsible Genetics, in Massachusetts.

Today's hearing by the Assembly Higher Education Committee will include testimony from university representatives as well as bioethical experts.

The hearing takes place at 1:30 p.m. in room 437 of the Capitol.


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