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
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2012 @ 6:36pm

    Re: Re: easy, dont be a criminal and dont worry -

    That is an issue for the police and your government, not for the citizens, the citizens vote in a government, and if you are telling the truth, then it is your own dumb, stupid fault for voting in (if you can be bothered to vote at all) a responsible Government..

    Remember, your Government is "BY THE PEOPLE",,, that means YOU CHOOSE your Government, and you are pissed off because you got what you asked for...

    As most Americans cant even be bothered to vote, you deserve everything you get.

    America is a basket case because of the likes of you, and the rest of the apathetic morons that cannot be bothered to get off your ass and try to improve things.

    But you certainly have the ability to whine alot, and cry about the situation you yourself have created.

    Why dont you describe one or two examples of abuse you talk about, even one !!! I am not saying it does not happen, I am saying that is no excuse for you to abuse your power, or your rights..

    You will also find that having your DNA and having it confirmed that your DNA is not the DNA of the person who committed the crime, takes that power OFF the police, if they do not have that power they cannot abuse it.

    whereas without your DNA proof of innocence, it is more possible for abuse and false identification, and false imprisonment.

    a great number of people who have been put in prison have been released based on modern day DNA analysis.

    REMOVING power from the police, a power if they do not have they cannot abuse.

    The police also do not convict people, they actually have little power, all they can do is tell the court system what they have discovered, and it is the court system that applies the law.

    You dont go to jail because a police officer has convicted you, you go to jail because the court and judge has judged the available evidence and determined your guild (with the help of a jury)... the police just find you, and gather the evidence to try to prove your guilt or not.. apart from that they have no power to convict someone.. that is the job of your court/legal system.

    Police are not judges or juries, they are police, they are also bound by specific laws and strict rules, and have to ensure probaty of evidence, and prove their case to the prosecutor and the court and justice system.......

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