New Fear – Your Sheded DNA Could Be Used To Identify You
Experts are concerned that the DNA you shed everywhere could be used to identify you.
According to recent research, it may be possible to sequence human DNA from minute amounts of water, sand, and air in the environment in order to potentially obtain identifiable details like gender, genetic ancestry, and health risks.
Every cell of the body have DNA. It can be used to identify individuals because each person has a unique genetic code. Human DNA is typically obtained through direct samplings, such as blood tests, swabs, or biopsies, by medical practitioners and researchers. All living things, including animals, plants, and microbes, shed DNA all the time. Water, soil, and even the air contain microscopic biological particles from living organisms.
Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is DNA that an organism has shed into the environment. For many years, researchers have been able to collect and sequence eDNA from soil or water samples to track pathogens that cause disease, wildlife populations, and biodiversity. Researchers have benefited from tracking rare or elusive endangered species using their eDNA because traditional monitoring methods such as observation or trapping can be difficult, often unsuccessful, and intrusive to the species of interest.
Researchers who use eDNA tools frequently ignore DNA from other species and concentrate only on the species they are studying. Humans, on the other hand, shed, cough, and flush DNA into their surroundings.
And, team of geneticists, ecologists, and marine biologists at the University of Florida discovered, evidence of human life can be found everywhere except in the most remote locations.
IN eDNA, ANIMALS, HUMANS, AND VIRUSES
Studies endangered sea turtles and the viral tumors to which they are susceptible using environmental DNA. Shortly after birth, tiny hatchling sea turtles shed DNA as they crawl along the beach on their way to the ocean. Sand collected from their tracks contains enough DNA to shed light on the turtles and the chelonid herpesviruses and fibro papillomatosis tumors that plague them.
Scooping a liter of water from a recovering sea turtle’s tank under veterinary care yields a wealth of genetic data for research. Unlike blood or skin sampling, eDNA collection does not stress the animal.
The genetic sequencing technology used to decode DNA has advanced rapidly in recent years, and it is now possible to sequence the DNA of every organism in an environmental sample. Research team suspected that the sand and water samples we were using to study sea turtles contained DNA from a variety of other species, including humans. They had no idea how informative the human DNA we could extract would be.
To figure this out, they collected samples from various locations in Florida, including the ocean and rivers in urban and rural areas, and isolated beaches, and a remote island rarely visited by humans. Except for the remote island, researchers found human DNA in all of those locations, and the samples were of sufficient quality for analysis and sequencing.
They also put the technique to the test in Ireland, following a river from a remote mountaintop, through small rural villages, and into the sea at a larger town of 13,000 people. Human DNA was found everywhere except in the remote mountain tributary where the river begins, far from human habitation.
They also took air samples from a room in our Florida wildlife veterinary hospital. People present in the room permitted us to collect air samples. We recovered eDNA from people, animals, and common animal viruses present at the time of collection.
Surprisingly, they were able to identify disease-related mutations and identify the genetic ancestry of locals using the human eDNA that was present in the environment. A portion of the volunteers’ sex chromosomes were obtained by sequencing the DNA found in their footprints in the sand.
THE ETHICAL CONSEQUENCES OF COLLECTING HUMAN eDNA
Whole team refers to the unintentional recovery of human DNA from environmental samples as “human genetic bycatch.” The researchers want to have a more in-depth discussion about how to handle human environmental DNA ethically.
Human eDNA could make significant contributions to research in fields as diverse as conservation, epidemiology, forensics, and agriculture. Human eDNA, if handled correctly, could aid archaeologists in the discovery of previously unknown ancient human settlements, enable biologists to monitor cancer mutations in a given population, and provide law enforcement agencies with useful forensic information.
The accidental or deliberate collection and analysis of human genetic bycatch, however, raises a number of ethical issues.
It is possible to extract personally identifiable information from eDNA, but doing so carries obligations for confidentiality and informed consent.
While study was approved by University Of Florida institutional review board, which ensures that human studies follow ethical research guidelines, there is no guarantee that everyone will treat this type of information ethically.
Many questions have been raised about human environmental eDNA. Who should have access to human eDNA sequences, for instance? Should the general public have access to this information? Should consent be obtained before collecting human eDNA samples, and if so, from whom? Should scientists remove human genetic information from samples taken to identify other species?
The team of researchers believe it is critical to enact regulations that ensure ethical and appropriate data collection, analysis, and storage. Human eDNA collection must be taken seriously by policymakers, scientific communities, and other stakeholders, who must weigh consent and privacy against the potential benefits of studying eDNA. Raising these concerns now can help ensure that everyone is aware of eDNA’s capabilities and allow for more time to develop protocols and regulations to ensure the appropriate use of eDNA techniques and ethical handling of human genetic bycatch.
This is a study presented by University of Florida in a journal the conversation.