(NewsReady.com) – Traditionally, when an investigative team is looking for DNA, they must take it from something like an object a person has touched, fluids or hair they left behind, or directly from their body. Researchers at the University of Florida (UF) recently discovered that DNA is everywhere. However, they point out in a new study that it presents an ethical problem.
On May 15, the study, led by UF Professor David Duffy, was published in the Nature Ecology & Evolution Journal. The team found DNA in various locations, including the air, sand, and water. When people breathe, they release droplets of their DNA into the air, and scientists were able to capture that.
A university press release reported that Duffy said handling the environmental DNA ethically could benefit multiple fields, including criminal forensics. The statement pointed out that researchers “could track cancer mutations from wastewater.” Detectives might also be able to capture DNA floating in the air of a crime scene to identify a suspect.
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Duffy stated that his team of researchers was “consistently surprised” by “how much human DNA” they found and the quality of it. Shockingly, he said the samples were almost as good as if they were collected directly from a person.
However, the scientists warned that because of the high-quality samples, there would need to be new regulations to provide ethical guardrails. Generally, pulling DNA from publicly available sources is standard practice. But Duffy warned that the latest research shows “anyone can come along and harvest this information,” which creates consent issues.
The privacy concerns are not new. In recent years, law enforcement has begun hunting killers using familial DNA put into websites where people track ancestors. That, too, has raised ethical concerns. As science advances and researchers find new ways to collect DNA samples, the question is raised: At what point is it a violation of a person’s privacy rights? That’s something that experts have not answered yet.
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