N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper to keynote WCU conference on genomics, DNA

CULLOWHEE – North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper will deliver the keynote address at a daylong conference examining ethical and social implications of genomic research and other biotechnology issues Thursday, April 3, in Asheville.

Cooper will speak on the subject “DNA Technology” during the conference, to be held at the Asheville Civic Center and hosted by Western Carolina University’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

“The attorney general’s talk will focus on the critical need to expand the use of new technology and DNA analysis to catch and convict criminals,” said Gordon Mercer, associate dean of Western’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies. “He will explain why he believes North Carolina must expand its DNA database of convicted offenders and analyze thousands of untested sexual assault kits that sit on police department shelves across the state.”

Joining Cooper at the conference, titled “Genomic Research – The Science, the Law, Ethical and Social Implications,” will be some of the nation’s top researchers in the fields of genomics and biotechnology. Among those expected to attend are leaders in the fields of health sciences, economic development, law enforcement, business and industry, nonprofit organizations and government, as well as members of the general public, Mercer said.

In addition to Western’s Wes Bonds, the assistant chemistry professor who is leading WCU’s biotechnology studies, professors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, California State University, Oregon State University, the University of British Columbia and other institutions are expected to participate.

Discussion sessions will cover the latest developments in genomic research, and will examine some of the legal, ethical and social questions arising in the wake of the rapid pace of scientific advances.

“Society will have to deal with questions of policy in genomics, biotechnology, DNA testing, tissue engineering, genetic testing, property rights, privacy and confidentiality issues, stem cell research policies, legal issues, and many other policy and ethical concerns,” Mercer said. “These are becoming increasingly important issues worthy of discussion not just by scientists, but by all members of society.”

A steering committee – composed of university and college representatives, business and industry leaders, and state and local government officials – has called biotechnology and related fields “the next wave” in the world of science, and has identified biotechnology as strategic to the economic future of Western North Carolina.

The April 3 conference will begin at 8:30 a.m. and continue until 4 p.m. Registration is under way through March 27. Cost of the conference is $25, including lunch. For information or to register, contact Western’s Office of Research and Graduate Studies at (828) 227-7398, or toll-free at (800) 369-9854.