How to Identify Almost Anyone in a Consumer Gene Database

Paul Raeburn at Scientific American: “Researchers are becoming so adept at mining information from genealogical, medical and police genetic databases that it is becoming difficult to protect anyone’s privacy—even those who have never submitted their DNA for analysis.

In one of two separate studies published October 11, researchers report that by testing the 1.28 million samples contained in a consumer gene database, they could match 60 percent of the DNA of the 140 million Americans of European descent to a third cousin or closer relative. That figure, they say in the study published in Science, will soon rise to nearly 100 percent as the number of samples rises in such consumer databases as AncestryDNA and 23andMe.

In the second study, in the journal Cell, a different research group show that police databases—once thought to be made of meaningless DNA useful only for matching suspects with crime scene samples—can be cross-linked with genetic databases to connect individuals to their genetic information. “Both of these papers show you how deeply you can reach into a family and a population,” says Erin Murphy, a professor of law at New York University School of Law. Consumers who decide to share DNA with a consumer database are providing information on their parents, children, third cousins they don’t know about—and even a trace that could point to children who don’t exist yet, she says….(More)”.