The University of Florida scientists have made an unintentional finding that could aid in the search for missing people and criminals: the ability to gather human DNA samples from the air.
Researchers have identified human DNA in various unexpected places, including upholstered furniture, footprints, and even the open air, making it possible to collect samples for sequencing.
Scientists analyzed DNA from air samples taken at a veterinary hospital and found that it belonged to the hospital’s employees and patients and to common animal infections.
Researchers reportedly discovered the possible source for fighting crime while studying sea turtles and sand from a beach where the turtles lay eggs.
The project’s lead investigator, David Duffy, a professor of wildlife disease genomics at the University of Florida, has said that the ability to extract DNA from as little as a handful of sand, a sample of water, or even a person’s breath raises ethical questions for researchers and government officials in areas ranging from privacy and surveillance to data ownership.
Duffy said that scientists and legislators needed to advocate for safeguards to protect people’s privacy rights now that human DNA could be located and easily sampled.
DNA sampling in the environment is not novel. DNA can be taken from animal tracks and droppings to learn about the population’s health, genetic variety, and ancestry without catching or seeing the animal.
The full ramifications of such new tools are difficult to predict, but they are one of the unavoidable results of our ever-improving genetic sequencing methods and the ubiquitous DNA that humans continue to lose.
Human DNA of high quality can be easily discovered and linked to an individual, according to a study that studied ambient samples collected in the United States and Ireland.
Researchers believe that the ramifications of such uses vary with who is utilizing the technology and for what purpose.
Caution, criminals: your DNA is floating around.