August 13, 2003
Easy Method To Extract DNA From Fingerprints

Ottawa University Heart Institute researcher Maria Viaznikova has developed a fast easy way to extract DNA from fingerprints for sequencing.

Viaznikova said her team's method consistently yields 10 billionths of a gram of DNA, on average, from a single fingerprint. The findings were revealed at the American Society for Microbiology's nanotechnology conference in New York earlier this month. Although 10 "nanograms" might not sound like much, for DNA analysis, even 0.1 nanogram is enough, Viaznikova said. "Scientists try not to use less than 5 to 10 nanograms, so this is fine." She said forensic scientists have known for about five years that fingerprints contain DNA. However, commonly used extraction techniques need several hours or even days of lab work. "We can do it in 15 minutes," she added.

The article quotes experts who want restrictions on when government agencies can sequence a person's DNA with required notifications to tell a person their DNA is being sequenced. But these kinds of demands miss a very important point: once DNA sequencing becomes cheap and easy enough to be done by devices that can be operated by a single individual who has no special skills it will be impossible to discover the bulk of sequencing that will be done.

See my previous posts Will The Death Of Genetic Privacy Hasten The End Of Freedom? and Genetic privacy: can it be protected? for more on the implications of advances of this kind. What already seems naive about my previous posts is that I speculated on how women would try to get saliva samples or other cell samples from close contact with guys in order to get DNA samples. Well, getting a DNA sample will be easier than that. It will be easy to get a DNA sample from any person seen holding a drink in a bar. When they get up to leave someone could walk by and grab one of their drinking glasses to take a quick sample off of it. The person trying to get the sample never even has to meet their quarry. Combine the ease of sample acquisition and cheap DNA sequencing and personal genetic privacy will become impossible to maintain.

This ability to sequence another's DNA is going to have interesting ramifications for paternity suits. A woman will be able to stalk a guy by going to the same bar or restaurant, grab a glass he held, get a sample, and then sequence the guy's DNA. The woman can then judge the suitability of the guy's DNA. If he passes muster in terms of what she wants in a child she will also be able to use the DNA sample to have it be manipulated in a microfluidic device to make a viable set of chromosomes to use in artificial fertilization. Then she'll be able to sue for paternity. Will courts hold men responsible for offspring when the men start claiming they never even met the women who sue them for paternity?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 August 13 10:43 AM  Biotech Society

Patrick said at August 13, 2003 3:58 PM:

Forget glasses in a bar. If you want to sue for paternity you check the microphone after the President has given a speech, or the waitress grabs the cutlery after serving a meal to Bill Gates in the high class restaurant.

Does this mean celebrities will have "cleaners" who follow them around to sterilize everything they touch?

Not only paternity cases are at issue here. Imagine a controversial politician whose DNA is found on a rape victim.

Of course a few cases like that, and DNA looses half its utility, because once Senator Hangemall has successfully defended the rape/murder charge on the grounds that someone has copied his DNA, then real rapists can use that as precendent to get off themselves.

Phil Bowermaster said at August 14, 2003 7:31 AM:

Not only will DNA lose its utility as evidence (for murder as well as rape), it looks like the paternity suit as we know it will cease to exist. It may be replaced by something else, however.

Clarence said at November 14, 2006 9:12 PM:

What I find funny is that you seem to think that paternity matters more than it really does in terms of child support.

If you are married, it currently doesn't matter in most states whether a child your wife has is yours biologically or not. This encouragement of cockolding doesn't do much to strengthen the institute of marriage.

In the future I predict there will be artificial wombs, advanced cloning (with or without sperm) male birth control and other things. Men won't need women and women won't need men in order to reproduce. That will be interesting enough. And yes, I suspect when it becomes viable to do what you suggested in this article either paternity laws will change or there will be some sort of revolution.

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