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DNA Methylation Can Reveal Information About Criminal Suspects

Accepted submission by takyon at 2018-07-07 13:18:34

Crime scene DNA could be used to reveal a suspect's age—and whether they have cancer []

A drop of blood left by a suspect at a crime scene is a treasure trove for forensic scientists. Genetic information extracted from such biological samples can be compared against DNA databases to see whether a sample's DNA sequence is a match for any known offenders, for example. To protect individuals' privacy, these analyses, known as DNA fingerprinting, are normally restricted to parts of the genome not involved in creating proteins. But in some countries, investigators hoping to narrow down their pool of suspects are allowed to identify certain protein-coding sequences that can help predict skin or eye color []. And soon, scientists may be able to find out even more from an offender's DNA—including their age.

A new forensic approach analyzes the chemical tags attached to DNA, rather than genetic sequences themselves. These molecules, which can switch genes on and off, get added onto DNA throughout our life span in a process called DNA methylation. And because the patterns of DNA methylation change as we age, they could provide a good indication of how old a suspect is.

But this technique could inadvertently reveal a lot more about a suspect's health and lifestyle [] [DOI: 10.1016/j.tig.2018.03.006] [DX []], raising tricky legal and ethical questions that may demand new privacy safeguards, scientists suggest in a commentary in the July issue of Trends in Genetics.

A brief interview with two of the authors is included in TFA.

Related: Better DNA Hair Analysis for Catching Criminals []
Creating Wanted Posters from DNA Samples []
The Problems With DNA Evidence []
Study Predicts Appearance From Genome Sequence Data []
GEDmatch: "What If It Was Called Police Genealogy?" []
DNA Collected from Golden State Killer Suspect's Car, Leading to Arrest []

Original Submission