Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Privacy Biotech Science

Identifying a Culprit In a Bloodbath 47

Posted by timothy
from the sounds-utterly-foolproof dept.
worromot writes "A group of geneticists published a method to determine if a given individual's DNA is present in a mixture (e.g., in a pool of blood on a carpet). An individual's DNA can comprise less than 1% of the mixture. (The article is in open access on PLoS Genetics website.) While this is a potential boon for forensics, there are more immediate worries about the privacy of the participants of the genetics studies that had been under way for many years. As Science magazine writes, 'The discovery that a type of genetic data that is widely shared and often posted online can be traced back to individuals has prompted the US National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust to strip some genetic data from their publicly accessible Web sites and NIH to recommend that other institutions do the same.' The gravest worry was that an individual who had someone's genetic code could determine, based on the pooled data, whether the person participated in a disease study and whether they were in the disease group, or thereby glean private health information. NIH plans to ask institutions that have posted pooled data on their own Web sites to take these down, too."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Identifying a Culprit In a Bloodbath

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:34PM (#24903985)

    Thankfully the British government and the NHS have been leaking private medical records en masse for years, cleverly sidestepping this issue completely.

    God Save The Queen.

  • by Crazy Taco (1083423) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:50PM (#24904159)

    Good luck with taking that stuff down. Posting something on the Internet is like spilling grape juice on a white cloth. If it wasn't made obvious by the age controversy over China's gymnasts, then I'll say it again: once something is on the Internet it stays there, no matter how much scrubbing you do. People need to think first and to not put something up if there is ever a chance it will be an issue.

  • In the News (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Here are some more links to news and discussion (thanks google):

    Protecting Aggregate Genomic Data Elias A. Zerhouni and Elizabeth G. Nabel (4 September 2008) Science [DOI: 10.1126/science.1165490] http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1165490

    Science 5 September 2008, Vol.321 no. 5894 p. 1278 http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/321/5894/1278

    Science Now http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2008/829/1

    Nature News http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080904/full/news.2008.1083.html

    Nature

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:55PM (#24904215)

    Imagine the number of people who may be implicated merely because they bathed in the blood without actually participating in any murders.

  • CSI trend (Score:3, Insightful)

    by marco.antonio.costa (937534) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @04:57PM (#24904233)

    That worries me a bit. Seems as law enforcement is nowadays putting all their chips in forensics miracle technologies and stepping back from doing their ol' homework.

    I vaguely remember a story of a case that a guy was wrongly convicted because of a cat DNA sample at the place matched a piece of fur in his jacket, but was a false match, cause cats DNA can be almost identical from time to time. Then that would be possible with humans, a la birthday paradox.

    One would imagine a bloodbath would leave other evidence, say, witnesses shocked by the gunfire and screaming. Or chainsaw noises. :P

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Useful forensic evidence is only available in a small fraction of criminal cases, and genetic forensic evidence is even rarer.

      However, the probability of these things being useful goes up with the seriousness of the crime. If your car stereo gets stolen, the cops might not bother dusting for prints because it's just not a priority. If you have a serious crime scene, it makes sense to get as much genetic material as you can to help look at.

      The new technique of getting prints off of the micro-corrosions tha

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It seems far-fetched and easy to deal with using existing laws saying what you can and can not ask prospective employees.

        Clearly you've not been through a session on interview techniques. So what if they ask you stuff they are legally prohibited from asking. Often your reaction will be a sufficient answer for their purposes. If you comply, they have what they want. If you resist, Gee, you don't have quite the match for the skillset we were hoping for. If you think you can file a lawsuit, how will you prove

    • ...if you're a lacrosse player at Duke University.
  • Race (Score:5, Informative)

    by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:13PM (#24904377)

    A lot of SNPs and coding regions can be used to identify haplotypes- e.g. we might know that the probability of finding an A rather than a T at a particular base position on chromosome 3 is 90% for Asians and 20% for everyone else, or 40% of people with Huntingdon's and 90% of people without, etc. If you can gather SNP information from locations that are spread out across linkage points on different chromosomes, you can pretty much pin down the phenotype of the guy if any data has ever been gathered specifically mapping the phenotype distribution to the base pair probability. And if you're being genotyped, they'll know your race along with a lot of other phenotypic information about you from the paperwork they'll have you fill out.

    This is a weird situation, because race is only one of many attributes you have that you have no control over, but we obviously single it out and make it a sore spot. Now that they can genotype bloodbaths, will we get lynchings of color blind guys to come from this? Probably not, but I can easily imagine something like this igniting racial tensions.

  • fear mongering ftw (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thermian (1267986) on Saturday September 06, 2008 @05:13PM (#24904385)

    OMG DNA!!!!!11111one

    You know what, I can pretty easily say that without a lot of expense, there's not really any real danger of your DNA's 'privacy' (whatever the fuck that is) being violated. Do you have any idea how much DNA analysis costs?

    And if it is, if someone gets hold of your DNA? Well, DNA analysis is a resource hungry affair. Without prior knowledge of a reason to try, I can't see that any analysis would be done. It takes experienced people, and there is more than enough work examining DNA from crime scenes to keep them busy, without data mining random DNA as well.

    I spent two years working on DNA analysis techniques, particularly with regard to the application of data mining (not for the kind of thing that would be a privacy issue). We, by which I mean the DNA analysis crowd, are a long way from anything which could be applied on a large enough scale to pose a genuine threat to someones 'DNA Privacy'.

    Honestly, there are big enough problems to solve without wasting time on sensationalist bullshit like this.

    • I spent two years working on DNA analysis techniques, particularly with regard to the application of data mining (not for the kind of thing that would be a privacy issue).

      That's interesting- what techniques specifically?

      • by thermian (1267986)

        google for 'hypermotif thesis'
        That should get my stuff. no direct URL, sorry, I learned my lesson once before regards putting my hompage url on slashdot

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          It looks like you're essentially applying an evolutionary algorithm to mRNA expression data, which requires a run of many chips over a time series, over experimental parameters, and over sample replicates. These are genotype arrays. They cost less than a thousand bucks each and you only run one per individual (maybe several replicates). Plus the measurements are easier because it's a digital signal, so the scanners don't have to be terribly sophisticated. Already people are making ones as small as shoe boxe

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by thermian (1267986)

            Actually I wasn't referring to the expression time series work, that was interesting, but all it really demonstrated was that we aren't at the point of being able to do it in a useful fashion.

            I was referring to the DNA pattern extraction, that requires a lot of work. I only applied it to promoters, but it has wider uses that are still being explored (including website similarity, oddly enough..). Pattern matching is required for data mining DNA, and we have only just started to get a grip on the very basic

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by rwillard (1323303)

      OMG DNA!!!!!11111one

      You know what, I can pretty easily say that without a lot of expense, there's not really any real danger of your DNA's 'privacy' (whatever the fuck that is) being violated. Do you have any idea how much DNA analysis costs?

      And if it is, if someone gets hold of your DNA? Well, DNA analysis is a resource hungry affair. Without prior knowledge of a reason to try, I can't see that any analysis would be done.

      You're right, of course. Information posted on the internet is never archived, and the barrier to doing data analysis on collected information never lowers over time.

      • by thermian (1267986)

        You're right, of course. Information posted on the internet is never archived, and the barrier to doing data analysis on collected information never lowers over time.

        Ok, You're suffering from a lack of understanding regarding DNA. Let me enlighten you. DNA is not like web pages. In spite of what you may have read in the press, we have barely even started to dip our toes in the sea of data it contains.

        DNA fragments archived because they are available on the web is almost entirely useless when it comes to any sort of privacy issue.

        Once data, any data, loses context, its just junk of no interest. Labelled data is where its at, science wise, and good quality labelled data i

    • by evanbd (210358)

      DNA analysis will get cheaper, never more expensive. The techniques to extract signal from the data will get better, never worse.

      Certainly you're correct that the techniques are too expensive today for this to be an immediate concern. So when is the appropriate time to begin worrying about the privacy implications of cheap, ubiquitous DNA techniques? Would it be better to wait until after they arrive, and are in greater use, and hurriedly try to put together policies, laws, and other safeguards?

      What, pra

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by worromot (1182275)
      Do you have any idea how much DNA analysis costs?
      About $350, the last time I checked. For about 500,000 genotypes per individual.

      There is also a very major technology push for the "thousand-dollar genome", i.e. an ability to get a complete genome for $1000.

      The core of the finding, by the way, is that the pooled data that everyone thought was completely safe for privacy point of view, is now no longer so. It is a problem for people who have agreed to take part in these studies (and that's a lot of pe

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Honestly, there are big enough problems to solve without wasting time on sensationalist bullshit like this.

      Bullshit yourself, idiot.

      Technology, as they say, marches on. That's why someone who committed, or did not commit, a crime can be indicted or acquitted of the crime, even if it occurred twenty years before the DNA techniques were known. If this shit goes unchallenged now, ten years from now, the cops will be weeping on TV because they're being deprived of "this valuable crime-fighting tool". Jesus, ev

    • by ddoz (1329149)

      Do you have any idea how much DNA analysis costs?

      A quick google resulted in an affordable price of $999 [23andme.com].
      Pocket change to the typical corporate entity. Toilet paper to the typical banker. That's not taking into account who could be doing the work(self interest) or who could be influencing them to get it done(or take a trip to Abu Ghraib).

      there is more than enough work examining DNA from crime scenes to keep them busy, without data mining random DNA as well.

      Not true. DNA analysis is a rarity in many murder cases. Hell, any investigation at all is uncommon, unless it's a white family with money. Law enforcement doesn't have the budget for them all.

      We, by which I mean the DNA analysis crowd, are a long way from anything which could be applied on a large enough scale to pose a genuine threat to someones 'DNA Privacy'.

      Forget about DNA privacy, wha

    • by rhyre (464193)

      The 'DNA layman' hears Craig Ventner, and we get the impression that DNA sequencing is on the same path as Moore's law, where it's exponentially less costly to sequence someone's DNA every few years.

      So I'm still not 100% clear on why proper storage of samples far into the future won't create a virtual 'DNA dragnet' for future analysis.

  • Do you have any idea how much DNA analysis costs?

    Yes, yes I do. And it would cost you under $100 bucks (heck they said they need less than
    I agree there isn't much thread to someone's DNA privacy. Nonetheless, what about companies like 23andMe or Navigenics, who DO perform these SNP analysis' and DO have the information (they have mirrors of all public data).

    Oh yes, you worked on DNA analysis techniques, great specificity. How long ago was that?

    Did you see the part about figuring out if rela
  • I wondered once... if you were going to commit a crime, and minimized your chances of leaving DNA (shaved head, etc. you STILL leave some... so, what if you raided the dumpster behind a barbershop, got hair from dozens of different people, and blew it around the crime scene with a fan?

    Even if they spotted your hair, you would have deniability, if it's your own barber.

    • How would you explain traces of all those ppl's hair at you place after?

      • well of course, you put the hair in a trash bag straight into your stolen van, then you burn the van and all clothes worn on the job, shower, etc. Hopefully none gets into your house.
    • by denzacar (181829)

      So, police (or whoever does the investigation) analyzes all the DNA samples (it only takes time...) and finds YOU and/or dozen other people might have been at the scene of the crime.

      So, they question and investigate ALL of you further, based on the fact that there is quite a good chance that one or more of you committed the crime.
      Eventually alibis, evidence and motives WILL bring them to your door.
      Now... proving beyond reasonable doubt that you are guilty and convicting you is something else.

      Unless you live

  • The article starts off talking about identifying culprits in a bloodbath. And then they go on to talk about 'pooled data'. This gives rise to rather unsettling images.

  • It sounds like some kind of clustering algorithm, which is nothing new in the field of genetic data mining. Nothing to do with a bloodbath, just a "pool" of data in the database sense.
  • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo @ w orld3.net> on Sunday September 07, 2008 @06:37AM (#24908771) Homepage

    The "low copy count" method of multiplying a tiny sample of DNA to produce one large enough to make an identification has already been discredited in the UK (although the police continue to use it), and I can see this going the same way. A drop of blood will be found, the police will find some tiny sample of some poor guy who happened walk past that spot at some point and they will then have to fight it in court.

    It's a shame the police can't be trusted to look at this and regulate their own use of it, but past experience with other DNA and fingerprint techniques has shown that they can't.

All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities. -- Dawkins

Working...