Possibly heralding a new era in the use of genetic testing for hiring decisions, Genevolve (Albuquerque, NM) announced at the recent Aerospace Medicine Association conference in Atlanta, GA a new “military grade” test for inherited color blindness. A few years ago we posted on research done at the Neitz lab at the University of Washington that used gene therapy to cure color blindness in monkeys. Aspects of that research were used to produce the technology Genevolve uses for its test, called Eyedox. Eyedox uses a buccal swab that is sent to the company, which analyzes the sample for color genes (likely the ones detailed in this review paper by Neitz) and returns the type of deficiency and severity on a scale of 1-100, 100 being normal.
A press release from the company details what they envision the test could be used for:
“This prevents a qualified applicant from being denied entry into a field they can adequately perform and eliminates cheating or administrator bias that may allow some severely colorblinds to slip through the system,” says [President of Genevolve] Lemelin. The test has been designed to meet the needs of the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force as the departments and others have been critical of the failure of color vision tests currently on the market meeting their requirements.
Importantly, if accepted by the military for this application, the test could help move away from a functional test of an ability considered crucial for safe flight operation to a genetic test that shows correlation with that ability. In this case, there are legitimate concerns that the functional test of colorblindness has limitations, and the research behind this test is pretty sound. However, it still requires a change in philosophy for occupational fitness testing of functional ability. Note that the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 does not apply to the US military, so that is not a concern for the company at the moment.
When asked about this issue, the president of the company, Matt Lemelin, focused on the possible benefits of genetic testing in this instance:
“We approach the issue from the standpoint of the current color vision tests being inherently flawed and unfair making a testing environment where it is common for a wannabe pilot to be denied a license when they are safe to fly. We support fair color vision testing standards for pilots and believe that at least 30% of pilots deemed unsafe to fly would be approved as safe with our test.”
He also pointed out that they are not just focused on pilots, but on several military aviation related positions such as air traffic control, or even aircraft maintenance workers. Aside from the possible legal issues if this is ever made into a non-military application, this may be one of the first instances that genetic testing is being sold as usable selection criteria for employment. It will be interesting to see what is next for this company and those like it.
Full press release: Genevolve to Launch Military Grade DNA Test for Color Blindness…