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Genetics and public health—evolution, or revolution?
  1. Jane L Halliday1,2,
  2. Veronica R Collins1,2,
  3. Mary Anne Aitken1,2,
  4. Martin P M Richards3,
  5. Craig A Olsson1
  1. 1Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Royal Children’s Hospital, Parkville, Australia
  2. 2Department of Paediatrics, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  3. 3Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Associate Professor J Halliday
 Public Health Genetics Unit, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, 10th Floor, Royal Children’s Hospital, Flemington Road, Parkville, VIC 3052, Australia;


During the 19th and early 20th century, public health and genetics shared common ground through similar approaches to health promotion in the population. By the mid-20th century there was a division between public health and genetics, with eugenicists estranged and clinical genetics focused on single gene disorders, usually only relevant to small numbers of people. Now through a common interest in the aetiology of complex diseases such as heart disease and cancer, there is a need for people working in public health and genetics to collaborate. This is not a comfortable convergence for many, particularly those in public health. Nine main concerns are reviewed: fear of eugenics; genetic reductionism; predictive power of genes; non-modifiable risk factors; rights of individuals compared with populations; resource allocation; commercial imperative; discrimination; and understanding and education. This paper aims to contribute to the thinking and discussion about an evolutionary, multidisciplinary approach to understanding, preventing, and treating complex diseases.

  • human genetics
  • complex diseases

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  • J L Halliday and V R Collins contributed equally to this work.

  • Conflicts of interest: none declared.

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