Wednesday, May 29

Scientists Develop Airborne DNA Detection Method, Raising Privacy Concerns 2023

Scientists are growing better at retrieving the minuscule remnants of human genetic material that we leave floating in the air and water (environmental DNA or eDNA). This material can then be used to extract genetic data.

As reported by Futurism, this technique has existed for some time and has been utilized to detect virus traces in effluent during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, however, scientists are attempting to determine how much specific information they can extract from human DNA.

Obtaining information from eDNA

In a recent article published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, scientists analyzed samples for genetic markers associated with ancestry and ethnicity. The University of Florida team led by wildlife geneticist David Duffy was able to determine medical and ancestry information from minute traces of human DNA.

However, this concerns some privacy experts. As reported by the New York Times, law enforcement in the United States is already using DNA identification tools that may not be accurate.

When Duffy and his team conducted their experiments, they searched for turtle DNA in order to identify potential diseases afflicting the species. After discovering “surprising” quantities of human eDNA, they decided to pursue this line of inquiry instead.

In order to accomplish this, they collected samples from a Florida watercourse and analyzed them for DNA traces. To their astonishment, they discovered more human DNA containing specific information (such as genetic ancestry) than they had anticipated.

According to the report, one sample was comprehensive enough to be added to the database of missing persons. Even so, such instruments are exploitable in the hands of harmful parties. For example, Chinese officials are already conducting genetic research to examine the DNA of the nation’s ethnic minorities.

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