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Studying the New Pathogen Genomics: Considerations for Bioethics

Tuesday, June 1, 2021 3:30pm to 5:00pm

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The UCSF Bioethics Speaker Series with Stephen Molldrem, PhD

The last decade has seen the expanded use of pathogen genetic sequence data in infectious disease research, prevention, and control. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been prominently evinced by discourses about SARS-CoV-2 mutations and variants in media reports, public health communications, and scientific papers. In this talk, I draw on my ongoing program of qualitative research within communities of practice in HIV, M. tuberculosis (TB), and SARS-CoV-2 genomic epidemiology. I describe a set of practices, technologies, and infrastructures that I call the new pathogen genomics: the amalgamation of norms, institutions, policies, tools, people, and entities that facilitate uses of pathogen genetic sequence data, often utilizing open data infrastructures. This work also often involves the use of phylogenetic methods that are deployed as open source software packages and distributed online in open science environments. The new pathogen genomics has developed following the digitization of health systems, developments in genomic science that have made sequencing less expensive, the emergence of open genomic pathogen data infrastructures, and the increased use of pathogen genetic sequence data in routine public health work. I offer some methodological parameters for studying the new pathogen genomics using qualitative methods and humanistic approaches, focusing on considerations for bioethics.

Stephen Molldrem, PhD is a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of California, Irvine Department of Anthropology and an incoming Assistant Professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Population Health, with membership in the Institute for Bioethics and Health Humanities. Stephen is a qualitative researcher primarily situated in Science and Technology Studies and critical bioethics. His writing on pathogen genomic epidemiology has appeared in The American Journal of Bioethics and Global Public Health.


For questions or concerns please contact Matty Norstad, Bioethics Program Manager, at

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