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Spread Of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns

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Leaders include the United States – where the Supreme Court recently backed the collection of DNA swabs from suspects on arrest – and Britain, where police held samples of almost 7 million people, more than 10 percent of the population, until a court-ordered about-face saw the incineration of a chunk of the database.The expanding trove of DNA in official hands has alarmed privacy campaigners, and some scientists. Recent leaks about U.S. surveillance programs by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden have made people realize their online information and electronic communications may not be as secure as they thought. Could the same be true of the information we hold within our genes? DNA samples that can help solve robberies and murders could also, in theory, be used to track down our relatives, scan us for susceptibility to disease, or monitor our movements.

Earlier this year Yaniv Erlich, who runs a lab at MIT’s Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, published a paper in the journal Science describing how he was able to identify individuals, and their families, from anonymous DNA data in a research project. All it took was a computer algorithm, a genetic genealogy website and searches of publicly available Internet records.

“It was a very weird feeling – a ‘wow’ feeling,” Erlich told The Associated Press. “I had to take a walk outside just to think about this process.” Erlich says DNA databases have enormous positive power, both for fighting crime and in scientific research.

But, he said, “our work shows there are privacy limitations.”

Few would disagree about the power of DNA to catch criminals – and to clear the innocent. Hundreds of wrongly convicted people around the world have been freed thanks to DNA tests. A recent AP investigation found that at least 24 men in the United States convicted of or charged with murder or rape based on bite marks on the flesh of victims have been exonerated since 2000, thanks to DNA evidence.

Ethical qualms have done little to stop the growth of genetic databases around the world.

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Posted by FanningCommunications on Aug 1st, 2013 and filed under Techline. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response by filling following comment form or trackback to this entry from your site

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