Israeli Scientists Say Public Genealogy Databases Can Be Used to Identify Everybody

A method made by Stanford University scientists could be used by UK police experts claim

So while forensics databases are excellent at figuring out if two DNA samples match or if they're closely related, they're not as useful for tracing distant relatives.

While it might be too late for the people in the 1000 Genomes project to lock down their DNA data - "it's been downloaded maybe tens of thousands of times by labs around the world", Dr Erlich said - there's a reasonably simple way to stop people from misusing sites like GED-match.

The ultimate goal is to allow people to use their DNA to find out more about their own families without sacrificing their privacy, Erlich said.

These services appeal to many, including adoptees seeking their biological relatives, as it widens their search beyond the company where they were originally tested. For example in the case of the "Golden State Killer", the police nabbed the killer - a former police officer Joseph DeAngelo.

"We found that once a genetic database covers roughly 2 percent of the adult population, a match of a third cousin or closer is expected for nearly all persons of interest", Carmi said in a statement. His own profile had not been posted, but profiles of some of his relatives had been.

People of purely African and Asian descent are less vulnerable because fewer people in those groups have had their DNA sequenced and put into a public database.

These so-called "long-range familial searches" can find second or third cousins.

Next, the researchers scoured genealogical websites and other sources for additional descendants of that long-ago couple. CNN has reached out to GEDmatch for comment.

As of now adequate number of people of African and Asian descent have not registered on the public DNA databases and thus they can not be analysed fully say the researchers.

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"Genetic genealogy databases act like a GPS system for anonymous DNA", Erlich said in a statement. Given the rapid growth of consumer genomics, such possibilities are likely achievable in the near future, according to the authors. The Golden State Killer may have "left his DNA all over the place", but so do we.

Indeed, a genetic database needs to cover only 2 percent of a target population to find at least a third-cousin match to almost any person, they wrote in the study, published yesterday (Oct. 11) in the journal Science.

Ram says genetic data should be constitutionally protected from illegal search and seizure much like a person's email or telephone data.

DNA evidence has been admissible in United States courts since the late 1980s, and since then law enforcement has been collecting DNA. "Nonetheless, one case involved a crime from April 2018, suggesting that some law enforcement agencies have incorporated long-range familial DNA searches into active investigations". Investigators generated a genome-wide profile of the perpetrator from a crime scene sample and uploaded the profile to GEDmatch ~1 million DNA profiles. From that, they calculated that the genetic profiles of about 3 million Americans of European descent could deliver the equivalent of a third cousin for more than 90 percent of that ethnic grouping.

"Different databases constructed for different purposes might independently not provide enough information to reveal a person's identity but by combining information from multiple databases identifications can be made", he said.

To test the growing power of these sites, researchers led by Columbia University computer scientist Yaniv Erlich set out to see whether they could find a person's name - and thus, his identity - if all they had to go on was a piece of his DNA and a small amount of biographical information.

The closer you are with a relative, the more similar your genetic make-up is. First, they call for changes to rules that allow discarded material in clinics to be subject to genetic testing. They also suggest that consumer genetic companies adopt a better strategy of encryption so that there is a "technical means to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate searches".

Rosenberg said, "those ideas merit some discussion".

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