Human DNA Can Now Be Pulled From Thin Air or a Footprint on the Beach
Footprints left on a beach. Air breathed in a busy room. Ocean water.
Scientists have been able to collect and analyze detailed genetic data from human DNA from all these places, raising thorny ethical questions about consent, privacy and security when it comes to our biological information.
The researchers from the University of Florida, who were using environmental DNA found in sand to study endangered sea turtles, said the DNA was of such high quality that the scientists could identify mutations associated with disease and determine the genetic ancestry of populations living nearby.
They could also match genetic information to individual participants who had volunteered to have their DNA recovered as part of the research that published in the scientific journal Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday.
“All this very personal, ancestral and health related data is freely available in the environment and is simply floating around in the air right now,” said David Duffy, a professor of wildlife disease genomics at the University of Florida.
Environmental DNA has been obtained from air, soil, sediment, water, permafrost, snow and ice cores and the techniques are primarily being used to help track and protect endangered animals.
Human DNA that has seeped into the environment through our spit, skin, sweat and blood could be used to help find missing persons, aid in forensic investigations to solve crimes, locate sites of archaeological importance, and for health monitoring through DNA found in waste water, the study noted.
However, the ability to capture human DNA from the environment could have a range of unintended consequences — both inadvertent and malicious, they added. These included privacy breaches, location tracking, data harvesting, and genetic surveillance of individuals or groups. It could lead to ethical hurdles for the approval of wildlife studies.
You can read more in an article by Katie Hunt published in the CNN Health web site at: https://www.cnn.com/2023/05/15/health/human-dna-captured-from-air-scn/index.html.