Genetics used to be the province of lonely scientists cross-breeding flowers. All that has changed. Promising to cure everything from hereditary diseases to world hunger, companies have begun to flood the market with the products of genetic research. But how should the utopian promises of these products be balanced against public concern over potential dangers? That is the question that genetic policy experts try to answer. Although the public is increasingly interested in the debates, the rapid pace of change can make it difficult for even the professional policy-makers to keep up. Now, a new Web portal produced by a team of policy experts at the University of Montreal promises up-to-the-minute access to all the latest genetic policy information.

The new portal, HumGen, consists of two online information services: GenConnect, a listing of genetic policy-making bodies, and GenBiblio, a database of recent genetic news and policy.

GenConnect is a searchable alphabetical listing of over 300 organizations worldwide that are involved in setting policy regarding the legal, ethical, and social issues that stem from human genetic research. Although most of these organizations are governmental, this directory also includes university and private-sector groups. Each listing includes the organization's Web address, physical address, phone numbers, and jurisdiction.

Updated monthly, GenInfo lists new policy guidelines from around the world and information about recently published research. Genetic policy is a young field, so most of the important publications and policy papers are available online. GenInfo is well organized and easy to 'browse,' whether you need the new statement on cloning from the Human Genome Organization or the new Swedish law concerning the use of gene technology on human beings.

The HumGen association also provides customized research on global genetic policy through it's GenCite service, however, this service is not free, nor is it available from the Web site.

The HumGen site appears to be a good source of information for anyone interested in genetic policy or ethics--which should be anyone studying molecular biology today. So step back from your research for a few minutes and think about its implications!