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posted by chromas on Saturday October 13 2018, @07:20AM   Printer-friendly
from the keep-your-base-pairs-to-yourself dept.

We will find you: DNA search used to nab Golden State Killer can home in on about 60% of white Americans

If you're white, live in the United States, and a distant relative has uploaded their DNA to a public ancestry database, there's a good chance an internet sleuth can identify you from a DNA sample you left somewhere. That's the conclusion of a new study, which finds that by combining an anonymous DNA sample with some basic information such as someone's rough age, researchers could narrow that person's identity to fewer than 20 people by starting with a DNA database of 1.3 million individuals.

Such a search could potentially allow the identification of about 60% of white Americans from a DNA sample—even if they have never provided their own DNA to an ancestry database. "In a few years, it's really going to be everyone," says study leader Yaniv Erlich, a computational geneticist at Columbia University.

The study was sparked by the April arrest of the alleged "Golden State Killer," a California man accused of a series of decades-old rapes and murders. To find him—and more than a dozen other criminal suspects since then—law enforcement agencies first test a crime scene DNA sample, which could be old blood, hair, or semen, for hundreds of thousands of DNA markers—signposts along the genome that vary among people, but whose identity in many cases are shared with blood relatives. They then upload the DNA data to GEDmatch, a free online database where anyone can share their data from consumer DNA testing companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com to search for relatives who have submitted their DNA. Searching GEDMatch's nearly 1 million profiles revealed several relatives who were the equivalent to third cousins to the crime scene DNA linked to the Golden State Killer. Other information such as genealogical records, approximate age, and crime locations then allowed the sleuths to home in on a single person.

Even if you can convince your entire immediate family to not use these services, you could still be vulnerable. And the success rate is likely to climb over time for all racial groups. Maybe the tests could be subsidized to get more of the population to give up the goods.

Also at LA Times

Related: DNA From Genealogy Site Led to Capture of Golden State Killer Suspect
GEDmatch: "What If It Was Called Police Genealogy?"
DNA Collected from Golden State Killer Suspect's Car, Leading to Arrest
Another Alleged Murderer Shaken Out of the Family Tree
'Martyr of the A10': DNA Leads to France Arrests Over 1987 Murder
Indiana Murder Suspect Found by Using Genealogical Website


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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by splodus on Saturday October 13 2018, @09:29AM (1 child)

    by splodus (4877) on Saturday October 13 2018, @09:29AM (#748242)

    The number of times I've noticed a hair in an amazon prime package - doesn't really bother me except to make me wonder how much of my stuff has been sneezed or coughed on!

    I can't help thinking this approach is going to lead to an increase in people getting scooped up just because their DNA has been found.

    If the criminal was very careful, and only DNA from the guy at a warehouse 50 minutes away is found? Or he has no alibi, but the real killer has 2 friends who swear they were playing video games all evening...?

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  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 13 2018, @11:52AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 13 2018, @11:52AM (#748270)

    My previous job(which wasn't IT related) I hand made items which were then shipped globally, this, incidentally, included a number of knives. So, despite never having visited these places, traces of my DNA can potentially be found on items in China, India, Ghana, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Canada, USA, Wales, England, Egypt, Israel, Norway...including items more than capable of murdering someone (knives).
    By contamination, by finishing production items we made for customers who then shipped globally my DNA (in smaller trace amounts) could be found anywhere on the planet (including, rather weirdly, some 'royal' palaces)
    My understanding of the situation is that DNA evidence was only ever supposed to be corroborative, it backed up other evidence, does it surprise me in the least that you can now get convicted on the basis of DNA evidence alone? (clue: people generally have such a real deep understanding of science in general and the wonderful and whacky world of statistics in particular..)