Recent advances in biological and computational technologies are changing the way different social groups imagine race, gender, kinship, citizenship and disease risk. Existing taxonomies are being displaced or reconfigured, impacting the ways in which people are governed, how lives are lived, how groups are known and how power is exercised. Herein we report on a two-day international symposium that we co-organized, titled ‘The molecularization of identity: science and subjectivity in the 21st century,’ that was held on 29–30 April 2016 at the Program on Science, Technology and Society, at Harvard University. The symposium drew upon the tools and expertise from multiple disciplines and diverse geographical regions and consisted of 24 original research presentations and an interdisciplinary roundtable. Specific attention was paid to the bioethical, material and lived dimensions of recent developments in molecular technologies, and discussions interrogated the complex ways in which the ‘molecular realm’ is an emerging site for constituting human identities in the 21st century. Herein we summarize some of the key findings of the conference and raise three further issues for practitioners and researchers to consider in relation to the broader impact of genetics research. Namely: transnational governance of emerging biotechnologies; representation of different interest groups in policy decisions; and rights of access to emerging technologies.