Government DNA databases--who's targeted?

The retention of millions of innocent people's DNA raised "significant ethical and social issues" in the United Kindom, which has launched an inquiry into the way the national DNA database is used.

According to an article in the BBC news,

Since 2004, the data of everyone arrested for a recordable offence in England and Wales--all but the most minor offences--has remained on the system regardless of their age, the seriousness of their alleged offence, and whether or not they were prosecuted.

This database is not unlike the one named CODIS in the United States--searching CODIS is almost a requirement of every crime scene investigation shown on television. The UK database, at 4.5 million, is the largest per capita; the US one, at 5 million, is largest overall.

But, have you wondered whether any of your DNA is in the system? If so, how might it be used? Both citizens and the government of the UK are trying to get a better picture of what is currently happening in their countries. There have been no announcements, to my knowledge, of a similar investigation in the US.

In DNA profiling, only a tiny sample of sliva, blood, semen, etc. is needed for testing. Typically pieces of DNA are tested gender and 10 or more "markers". Although the probability of two people in the world having matching DNA is said to be one in one billion--except for identical twins--partial matches can be seen with relatives. Profiles are also said to indicate ethnic origin. They do not, however, identify genetic disorders or potential susceptibility to diseases with genetic causation.

According to the BBC:

The government consultaion will be conducted by the Human Genetics Commission advisory body. Over the nnet six weeks, it will hold sessions with dozens of members oof public in an exercise costing £75,000. The conclusions will be fed back to the gorernment in a report next year on the forensic use of DNA.

The man in charge of the inquiry, Human Genetics Commission chairman Sir John Sulston, said: "There is an important balance to be struck between individual rights and public safety and we need to know how people feel about these issues".

Do you have any opinions on the US gathering and keeping DNA data from anyone they wish?

Marie Godfrey, PhD

posted 14 Jan 2008


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