Russia Will Introduce Special Digital Genetic Passports

July 29, 2021

By Eugene Gerden

July 29, 2021 | Russia plans to introduce special digital genetic passports that will contain genome sequencing of each citizen of the country—the data could be further used for the formation of genetic profiles and identification of susceptibility to diseases, according to recent statements made by some senior officials of the Russian federal government and analysts.  

According to Russia’s Minister of Health Mikhail Murashko, the passport will be issued directly at the birth of a person. 

Mikhail Murashko comments: “In general, the healthcare system is moving toward a preventive focus and early detection of diseases.  Now we are starting a new project, when we make a genetic profile of each citizen on the basis of genomic sequencing. With the help of these technologies we are creating a kind of digital passport—a digitized genetic passport of a person.”

Currently the government considers ways for storage of such  information and designs requirements and rules that will regulate access to it and protection. All this information will be considered personal and confidential. Work is also underway in regard to the technologies that will be used for genome sequencing. According to the Russian Kommersant business paper, the domestic company Sotsmedica, based in Skolkovo (a Russian Silicon Valley), may participate in the project. The company has an algorithm that allows researchers to conduct a genome study in an automatic mode and in a short time. 

The design of genetic passports will be part of the 2019 Presidential order known as “On the Fundamentals of Russian State Policy in the Field of Chemical and Biological Safety for the Period up to 2025 and Beyond”, which creates legal framework for genetic certification of the Russian population and the development of technologies for screening of human, animal, and plant gene pools. As part of these plans, a national database of genetic information of Russian citizens will be also created.

Implementation of the project is personally controlled by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who earlier this year said that the database will be created on the basis of Russia’s experience in the field of bioinformatics. 

The volume of investments in the project is not disclosed. Almost 100% of funding will be allocated from the federal budget.

However some of Russian leading  genetic scientists have already expressed their skepticism regarding with the latest state initiative. 

Evgeny Ginter, an academician and scientific Director of the Russian Medical Genetic Research Center  said the content of the genetic passport may be actually different. 

Evgeny Ginter comments: “In terms of medical purposes, it is possible, for example, to identify genes that cause hereditary pathology. I am skeptical about using this passport to fight diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes mellitus, bronchial asthma and so on. The genetics of these diseases are not yet sufficiently understood to be able to extract something useful from them. However, the risks of using a genetic passport exceed its possible benefits.”

Valery Ilyinsky, director of the Russian Genotek medical and genetic center, one of Russia’s leading genetic centers in an interview with the Russian RBC business paper said in addition to the proposed genetic passport, which indicates the risks to human health and other characteristics of the human body, another option may involve creation of forensic genetic passport. According to him, a forensic passport is a set of genetic markers that allow to identify a person, the expert explains.

Ilyinsky says: “Usually such passports are created for offenders and for people with dangerous professions, firefighters and military. Thus, if a person commits a crime, it will be easy to find and detain him, and if he dies as a result, for example, of a man-made disaster, he will be easily identified.” 

According to Ekaterina Zakharova, head of the laboratory of hereditary metabolic diseases of the Russian Bochkov Medico-Genetic Research Center, it is important to openly discuss what is meant by the genetic passport, what parameters there will be, and to raise the ethical aspects of genetic testing. Zakharova added that various patient organizations in Russia generally oppose initiatives to expand genetic screening programs for citizens.