Burglars beware! Scientists have found a way to collect human DNA from almost anywhere – including water and the AIR
- Scientists say DNA can be detected from air, water and a footprint on a beach
- This could be vital for when murderers refuse to say where victims are buried
Anonymity is over, as DNA in the air and water means people could in future be tracked wherever they go.
Scientists have issued a warning after discovering complex human DNA can be detected from the air, water and even a footprint on a sandy beach.
This could be a vital breakthrough for when murderers refuse to reveal where they have buried their victims, allowing DNA-seeking drones to find human remains in remote locations.
It could help to find missing people, and help place criminals at the scene of a crime.
But researchers have warned it could also be used to profile an individual based on their DNA and potentially see if they have been in certain areas.
Scientists have issued a warning after discovering complex human DNA can be detected from the air, water and even a footprint on a sandy beach (stock image)
The scientists behind the warning are more used to informing the public about sea turtles, normally using DNA in the environment to learn about turtle diseases.
But they found a huge amount of human DNA in their samples, so decided to investigate further.
It emerged it is possible to remove DNA in the air from a veterinary hospital building, the water in rivers and oceans, and even the sand on a beach.
This DNA reveals people’s genetic ancestry, like whether they are European, and genetic mutations which show someone’s risk of diseases from diabetes and autism to heart disease, based on the results of six DNA samples from water and two from the air.
But, worryingly, the researchers said enough DNA was available from the air in a room or footprints on a beach to show if an individual person had been there – if that person’s DNA profile was known.
There are already concerns that millions of people voluntarily providing their DNA for family tree research, or to find out if they are descended from Vikings, risks creating a massive genetic database, which could in future be misused by insurance companies with an interest in knowing people’s risk of future illness.
But DNA captured from the air and water, without the knowledge of the people it belongs to, could have even worse consequences for privacy.
It emerged it is possible to remove DNA in the air from a veterinary hospital building, the water in rivers and oceans, and even the sand on a beach. Pictured: Fiona Duffy and D. Duffy filtering a water sample, Wicklow, Ireland
Dr David Duffy, who led the DNA project from the University of Florida, said: ‘We’ve been consistently surprised throughout this project at how much human DNA we find and the quality of that DNA.
‘In most cases, the quality is almost equivalent to if you took a sample from a person.
‘There is enough DNA in the environment to potentially track people in the future, if you had information about their DNA.
‘That raises concerns about surveillance and privacy.’
Human DNA is exhaled and coughed into the air, flushed into waterways from the toilet, and left in the natural environment as we walk through it.
DNA in sewage works from household toilets is already used to track the spread of diseases such as Covid, monkeypox and tuberculosis.
But the evidence that DNA in the environment is such high-quality means it could be used to find archaeological sites if importance containing graves or human sacrifices.
The researchers did not test whether someone’s DNA could be found in a room after they have recently left it, but previous studies suggest this is possible, which could help criminal investigations.
Human DNA was also found in rivers in Ireland and Florida, as well as a beach in Florida.
The concern from the findings, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is that the breakthrough could mean certain ethnic groups could in future be found in areas by authoritarian governments who are persecuting them.
HOW DID COPS USE A PHOTO OF A FINGER TO IDENTIFY A CRIMINAL?
Police in Wales recently located a drug dealer using only a photo of his hand holding ecstasy tablets.
It was challenging to locate the criminal based on his fingerprint since the entirety of it was not shown in the picture. Rather, it was partially featured in the photograph.
When the police scanned it and uploaded it into their system, they did not immediately find a match.
They never located an exact replica, but they were able to collect enough evidence to make an educated guess about the identity of the man in the photo.
‘While the scale and quality of the photograph proved a challenge, the small bits were enough to prove he was the dealer. It has now opened the floodgates, and when there is part of a hand in a photograph officers are sending them in,’ South Wales Police employee Dave Thomas said.
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