18 August 2009

DNA Database Doomed: It Works Too Well

This is something I've been saying (without proof, admittedly) for a while: the UK's insane DNA database is doomed not because it doesn't work well, but because it works *too* well in a sense - in that it lets you frame anybody with perfect efficiency:

Scientists in Israel have demonstrated that it is possible to fabricate DNA evidence, undermining the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases.

The scientists fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva. They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.

“You can just engineer a crime scene,” said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, which has been published online by the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. “Any biology undergraduate could perform this.”

This is actually an argument against expanding the database: what you want are just the real criminals, not all those who might possibly one day be one. The bigger the database, the more likely you will get a match with fake DNA.

Needless to say, our great and glorious government will ignore completely this inconvenient truth, and go on stuffing its database with DNA - the reason being this isn't about crime, but about control.

Still, looking on the bright side, it will be trivially easy to spread Gordon Brown's DNA at any crime scene in the future - all we need is a discarded coffee cup....

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8 comments:

Nick said...

This does indeed undermine the credibility of DNA evidence. Although the lead author of the paper has developed a test to distinguish real DNA samples from fake ones, the need for such tests will presumably lead to an "arms race" between the fakers and the forensic labs?

glyn moody said...

Exactly; and the end result will be faking *all* your DNA, which, by definition, will be indistinguishable from yours.

It's coming, too: whole-genome sequencing costs are dropping like a stone, and I presume synthesis costs will follow....

Ann said...

I believe the article said that you didn't even need the coffee cup, just the information from the database, and then you could manufacture instead of amplifying.

glyn moody said...

@Ann: the database currently holds only DNA fingerprints - essentially unique bits of the genome. That's only useful if the person is already on the database. I presume Gordon Brown's isn't...

More seriously, I also presume that fingerprints will be replaced by fuller genome sequences, so you'd need to be able to synthesise that too: for that you'd need full samples.

Angus Prune said...

If someone has the power to obtain records from the DNA database andn then synthesise DNA, wouldn't they likely have the power to obtain DNA samples directly?

In other words, would this allow anyone to frame me who couldn't already frame me?

glyn moody said...

@Angus: I think it would - in the future, at least. Getting hold of sensitive info from the DNA database is easy - just corrupt one of the many who have access (assuming the UK gov doesn't lose the whole db on some DVDs.)

Synthesising DNA is getting easier all the time: there's a whole new world of DNA hacking out there.

henry young said...

Well, DNA has always been a good form of evidence and proof as to really what happened. I believe in DNA, 100%

glyn moody said...

@henry: well, the point is it *was* very good; but if I can plant your DNA at the scene of any crime, doesn't that rather undermine its usefulness....?