Last week, the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix said that scientists had developed a method for identifying an individual using only a smidgen of their DNA, even if it is mixed with hundreds of other people’s DNA, reports Portfolio magazine. The breakthrough will improve police forensics that uses DNA from crime scenes to hunt down lawbreakers and will help identify victims of disasters such as plane crashes and terrorist bombings with greater accuracy.
It also can be used to search for individual genetic signatures in huge databases at the National Institutes of Health and elsewhere. The NIH, the Wellcome Trust Case Control Consortium in Britain, and the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were among organizations that responded to the study by shutting down public access to DNA repositories. That occurred soon after Congress passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act to protect individuals from insurance companies and employers who would use their DNA against them. The law is slim on protections from searches and potential abuses by law enforcement and the government, gaps that need to be addressed by Congress in light of these new technologies.