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home : education : schools November 19, 2018

1/23/2018 2:04:00 PM
Science Club speaker will explore genetics

Barbara Pettersen understands genetics from a very human perspective.

As a certified genetics counselor for more than 30 years, she has guided families through some of life's most challenging decisions: What are our options for having a child, given our genetic test results or family history of inherited disorders? Should I have that surgery to pre-empt the possibility of breast cancer? One of my parents has Huntington's Disease - will I develop it, too?

Pettersen can't answer those questions for her clients but she can share the complicated science of genetics with clarity, compassion and understanding.

On Tuesday, January 30, Pettersen will speak on "The New Genetics: Promises and Pitfalls" at The Belfry for the Sisters Science Club "Frontiers in Science" series.

After an overview of medically accepted and highly accurate genetic tests, Pettersen will address Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) tests such as 23andMe and others. Her concise advice? "Buyer Beware."

Although some offerings of many of these tests are based on solid scientific evidence, some are not, Pettersen explains. Some are still in flux and based on very early evidence with interpretations that are likely to change over time as new knowledge is acquired.

When clients arrive in a genetic counselor's office with their DTC test results in hand, the counselor knows a complex discussion is about to begin.

From the human perspective, Pettersen sees the ethical and societal implications of uncertain genetic science with unpredictable consequences.

The whole world may look different in the future when the science of gene editing using CRISPR and other tools is available to anyone for any purpose. Pettersen will provide some context for the public debates about this emerging technology: what it is, how it works, what it's being used for currently, what it could be used for in the future, and the potential promises and pitfalls of being able to edit the genome of any organism on


Pettersen has held positions at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Stanford University Medical Center, the Kaiser-Permanente Medical Center-San Jose, and at Genetic Counseling of Central Oregon. She currently works at Natera, Inc., a genetic testing laboratory in San Carlos, CA. She has served on the Board of Directors of both the National Society of Genetic Counselors and the American Board of Genetic


Social hour begins at 6 p.m. with light fare, beer and wine available. The lecture begins at 7 p.m. Admission is $5; Science Club donors, teachers and students are admitted free.

The Belfry is located at 302 E. Main Ave., Sisters.

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