Adding Your DNA To A Biobank Is A Noble Move -- But Is It A Wise One?

from the no-good-deed-goes-unpunished dept

One new approach to teasing apart the complex relationships between genes and common diseases such as cancer, heart disease, asthma and diabetes is by creating huge biobanks of medical data and samples. The idea is that by tracking the health and habits of very large populations across many years, and then examining their DNA, it will be possible to spot factors in common. Here's a major biobank that is shortly opening up its holdings for research:

UK Biobank recruited 500,000 people aged between 40-69 years in 2006-2010 from across the country to take part in this project. They have undergone measures, provided blood, urine and saliva samples for future analysis, detailed information about themselves and agreed to have their health followed. Over many years this will build into a powerful resource to help scientists discover why some people develop particular diseases and others do not.
Anything that brings us closer to understanding and treating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people is obviously to be welcomed. But DNA is special: for a start, it is unique for each of us (even "identical" twins seem to have different DNA.) This has made DNA of particular interest to the police, since it appears to offer a perfect way for identifying those at a crime scene (not necessarily the perpetrators, of course.) Which raises the question: what happens when the police realize that biobanks offer a great way to get DNA they can't obtain in the usual ways?

The UK Biobank addresses this issue in its FAQ:

Will access be allowed for purposes other than health-related research?

The UK Biobank Resource has been established for health-related research that is in the public interest. Any attempts to use it for other purposes will be resisted. So, for example, insurance companies and employers will not be allowed to access the Resource to look at information, samples or test results for any identifiable participants. Nor will UK Biobank allow access by the police, security services or other law enforcement agencies, unless it is forced to do so by the courts.
Clearly the UK Biobank wants to do the right thing here, but that last phrase "unless it is forced to do so by the courts" means that the police will probably get what they want once they start invoking "terrorism" or asking us to think of the children.

And once they have a sample, they might well decide to sequence its DNA to help identify the likely hair, eye and skin color of the person concerned – and perhaps much else besides, as gene analysis techniques advance, including highly-sensitive areas such as mental and reproductive health.

Investing your DNA in a biobank might seem like a noble act today, but who knows what the payback will be in years to come?

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Filed Under: biobank, dna, privacy


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  1. identicon
    darryl, 24 Jan 2012 @ 5:57am

    Re: DNA RNA

    you 'trust' your Government to hold highly detailed records of your financial activities, your travel activities, your living arraingements, the things you own, the licenses you hold.. your internet activity, your phone calls, your text messages.

    as well as detailed records of any crimes or 'incidents' you have had with authorities.

    They even record your car plates as you pass certain parts of the road, or when you drive past a police car, making a record of where and when you were at a specific location.

    And guess what, WHO cares ? again you dont care if you have not done anything wrong that would attract the attention of law enforcement, would you ?

    I guess if every criminal in the US just left behind a copy of their social security number there would be little problems..

    or if every human looked exactly the same !!! but they dont, there are many unique differentiators among people, (sex, age, look, height, weight, location and so on).

    God only help us if Governments, Police and Businesses know your genetic profile.
    Why, what is the reason or logic that supports your statement ?

    What is God going to do ? and which God do you refer too ?

    Allah ? Budda ? Masnick ? Ra ?

    Your God will not help you if you have committed a crime, and for that reason you do not want the police to have an easier time in finding you !!!

    When you go into a bank to withdraw some of your money do you worry that the security guard is going to rob you ? after all he has a gun !!! and you have money !!

    Or do you believe that it is because of God that he does not rob you, but somehow you are less safe from crime if you make the job of fighting crime easier !!!

    Would you not do whatever it is necessary to do to stop a serial killer from evading capture, or would you rather let him/her get away with it by not helping the police ???

    No wonder your country is going to shit, sorry gone to shit !!
    Have not seen much of your "God" helping you either..

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