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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday September 06 2017, @02:22AM   Printer-friendly
from the we-know-what-you-look-like dept.

Anonymity continues to die a little every day:

The physical traits predicted from genome sequence data may be sufficient to identify anonymous individuals in the absence of other information, according to a study set to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

After looking for links between physical phenotypes and whole-genome sequence data for more than 1,000 individuals from a range of ancestral groups, researchers from the US and Singapore took a crack at predicting biometric traits based on genetic data with the help of a newly developed algorithm. In a group of de-identified individuals, they reported, the algorithm made it possible to identify a significant proportion of individuals based on predictions of three-dimensional facial structure, ethnicity, height, weight, and other traits.

"By associating de-identified genomic data with phenotypic measurements of the contributor, this work challenges current conceptions of genomic privacy," senior author Craig Venter, of Human Longevity and the J. Craig Venter Institute, and his co-authors wrote. "It has significant ethical and legal implications on personal privacy, the adequacy of informed consent, the viability and value of de-identification of data, the potential for police profiling, and more."

[...] [Genome] sequences [...] are not currently protected as identifying data under the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act's Safe Harbor method for ensuring anonymous and de-identified patient information.

Also at Bio-IT World, PRNewswire, and San Diego Union Tribune.

Previously: Creating Wanted Posters from DNA Samples

Related: EFF to Supreme Court: The Fourth Amendment Covers DNA Collection
Kuwait Creating Mandatory DNA Database of All Citizens, Residents--and Visitors
Massive DNA Collection Campaign in Xinjiang, China
Routine Whole Genome Sequencing: Not Scary?

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @02:40AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @02:40AM (#564017)

    This could get weird for "wanted" posters. They may generate some based on DNA alone.

  • (Score: 2) by looorg on Wednesday September 06 2017, @02:48AM (1 child)

    by looorg (578) on Wednesday September 06 2017, @02:48AM (#564019)

    This could be interesting, and scarey. I wonder if they can eventually do the reverse, show and image and the dna-code to produce the person on the image will be available; or at least the empty shell of a body.

    I recon there will be law enforcement aspects of this, there are probably some people already salivating at the mouth. Find something to extract DNA from and get an image of everyone that was at the scene (or everyone that had DNA planted at the scene). Wouldn't it just be easier to get a sample from everybody and just sequence that and then search that if you now have DNA and you want to find the person that it belongs to. After all I'm guessing the images produced will be lacking certain information, sure we can age images etc but what if say I have some cosmetic surgery or a giant hideous scar etc; those things won't show up in my DNA. So the images could be all wrong.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @06:30AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @06:30AM (#564061)

      Get imprisoned for a crime, arrested in a protest, detained on the sidewalk or pulled over for a traffic infraction? You have to give us your DNA. It will let us boost the murder solve rate by 5%. We are doing this for your own good, citizen. We just want to keep you safe and sound.

  • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @03:00AM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @03:00AM (#564021)

    Another unrelated question, can you go GATTACA with this? Make the prettiest designer babies for modeling agencies.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday September 06 2017, @04:29AM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Wednesday September 06 2017, @04:29AM (#564033) Journal

      They probably need to refine the technique more. However, another approach would be to sequence the genomes of beauty queens, models, sex icons, and the like, and then analyze those genomes to investigate any similarities that could result in the desired traits. Of course, some would scream about cultural standards of beauty, unrealistic expectations, and racial bias. But if you are creating designer babies for the rich, you probably won't give a shit about all that because you are operating in a gray area outside of the long reach of the West, bankrolled by billionaires. Also, collecting more and more genomic data can help to counteract bias and deliver whatever the customers want.

      Yes, I foresee a bright and brave future for this area of bioengineering. Have it your way.

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    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @09:09AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @09:09AM (#564086)

      Three things:

        - We're already engaging in Gattaca, but it's done with "good intentions" so people just kind of shrug and move on. With NASA's latest call for potential astronauts, there were 18,300 [] applications for what will be 14 astronauts. I can tell you, before the team is announced, that it will be half female with a strong minority representation. Imagine the selection process was completely blind with any indicators of race/sex stripped from all applications. Do you think the team would look the same? We're specifically restricting heavily qualified individuals because they do not fit certain genetic criteria. When we call it diversity, people seem okay with it.

        - Another issue Gattaca missed out on was what I mentioned above. There are 18,300 applications. Even if NASA genuinely wanted to try to find the most qualified individuals, they likely could not. Their current genetic biases do not favor merit, but serve the same purpose of limiting the pool of applicants. We're likely already at the stage where many applications are literally never even seen by a human. If a human spent just 1 minute per application that would be 305 hours or about 2 weeks of 24/7 work. They are certainly being algorithmically pruned for factors that those applying would have no way of knowing or working to improve. Adding a genetic criterion isn't exactly rocking the boat of the current system.

        - Finally, in spite of the hype designer babies are likely extremely far away - if they ever become a thing. Cybernetics and the like are so much more deterministic and, equivalently, well defined than tinkering with genetics we haven't even scratched the surface of. What's the gene for hair color? Trick question. There is none, at least that we know of. Instead it's a variety of different genes interacting in different ways that are in no way understood. For instance the gene for red hair and untanning pale skin are somehow seemingly linked. I can give a much fancier explanation than 'somehow', but 'somehow' is the accurate phrasing. Intellectual posturing aside, genetics is based exclusively on correlations of a system for which we have 0 causal understanding of. Try creating a "designer" computer by randomly soldering circuits, with no real clue what they actually are responsible, for on a regular computer. Far from a "designer machine", you're more like to simply break what you're working on or, at best, end up with a Frankenstein caliber invention. And the human genome is many orders of magnitudes more complex than that. It's not even out of the question that we currently lack the technology to view genomic data on the right granularity. In other words, we might not even be looking at circuits - but instead only able to measure the heat emanating from various parts of our computer. The seemingly neverending explosion of the Standard Model would lend more than a little credence to this possibility.

      • (Score: 2) by DeathMonkey on Wednesday September 06 2017, @06:07PM

        by DeathMonkey (1380) on Wednesday September 06 2017, @06:07PM (#564214) Journal

        You find it odd that 50% of the population would make up 50% of the team?

  • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @04:09AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @04:09AM (#564030)

    Since race and ethnicities and other things are all just social constructs. I read it on reddit.

  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday September 06 2017, @04:34AM

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Wednesday September 06 2017, @04:34AM (#564035) Journal

    Added more links since the article I used is now asking for a login.

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @05:05AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 06 2017, @05:05AM (#564039)

    Use the *exact same* model to predict things on data you collect after publication (eg, this year), then publish again. I didn't read the paper but assume they didn't do this simple thing.