Monday, April 11, 2005

The Guardian | Scientist calls for world DNA database

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Scientist calls for world DNA database:

Alok Jha, science correspondent
Monday April 11, 2005
The Guardian

Everyone in the world should have their genetic profile stored on a database, but the information should be held independently of the authorities, according to the pioneer of DNA fingerprinting.

Current practice means that only the DNA of criminals is stored in most countries and the information is held by government agencies.

At a lecture on Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of the discovery of DNA fingerprinting, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, of Leicester University, said a global DNA database would have been invaluable in attempting to identify victims of the recent tsunami. Instead, investigators faced endless searches through incomplete records, or having to cause further distress to relatives of the victims.

Prof Jeffreys criticised the current version of the UK criminal DNA database and expressed concern about new laws that allow the authorities to add people who have not been convicted of any crime."

Now, "if you are taken to a police station in the context of a police investigation, the police have a right to demand a DNA test from you, and that profile will go on the database and stay there. That is a potentially serious infringement of civil liberties."

"Another area the police are interested in is rummaging around in DNA variation that tells you about the physical appearance of a person - ethnic origin, hair colour, eye colour, stature, facial appearance," he said. "I regard that as a massive infringement of genetic privacy."

On a more positive note, he described how making DNA fingerprints would become easier and cheaper. "There's a great deal of talk about a lab on a chip," he said. "People are now looking at ... miniaturising the whole process."

Speeding up DNA fingerprinting would lead to many new applications, not least in security. Instead of typing in a credit card pin number at the supermarket, people might just give a DNA sample. Spitting on a DNA testing chip at the checkout, he joked, might be the way people pay for their groceries in future.

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