Viewpoint: Golden State Killer case provokes discussion about ethics and DNA

Police added a new tool to their investigative options when they used DNA ancestry data to capture Golden State Killer suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo. Image credit: Reuters

Last week’s arrest of a suspect in the Golden State Killer case in California has highlighted how DNA samples that have been volunteered for one purpose — in this case, genealogy — can be used for other reasons, often without the donor’s explicit consent. Several ethicists have expressed concern about US detectives using a genealogy website in this way.

The case of the Golden State Killer, linked to at least 50 rapes and 12 murders between 1976 and 1986, had gone cold — although investigators believed they had a reliable sequence of the perpetrator’s DNA. Next they needed a match. So, according to reports, they uploaded the data to a popular website that compares people’s genetic information to trace their relatives — in effect, creating a profile for him. They got lucky: a match with family members led them to identify and arrest Joseph James DeAngelo.

Related article:  Lab-grown ‘mini brains’ are similar to those of premature babies and why that's a concern

If police can use genetic databases to catch killers — even those who are distant relatives of individuals who have submitted their DNA — then perhaps more people will sign up to share their DNA. But they should be told that this is a possibility, and be given the choice to opt out. Meanwhile, more geneticists, ethicists and lawyers need to debate other potential ways in which genetic information is likely to be used, so that ethics leads the conversation, rather than playing catch-up.

Read full, original post: The ethics of catching criminals using their family’s DNA

Outbreak Daily Digest
Biotech Facts & Fallacies
Talking Biotech
Genetics Unzipped

Video: We can ‘finally’ grow GMOs—Nigerian farmer explains why developing countries need biotech crops

Nigerian farmer Patience Koku discusses the GMO crop trials she is conducting on her farm, and why growers can "rise ...
mag insects image superjumbo v

Disaster interrupted: Which farming system better preserves insect populations: Organic or conventional?

A three-year run of fragmentary Armageddon-like studies had primed the journalism pumps and settled the media framing about the future ...
dead bee desolate city

Are we facing an ‘Insect Apocalypse’ caused by ‘intensive, industrial’ farming and agricultural chemicals? The media say yes; Science says ‘no’

The media call it the “Insect Apocalypse”. In the past three years, the phrase has become an accepted truth of ...
breastfeeding bed x facebook x

Infographic: We know breastfeeding helps children. Now we know it helps mothers too

When a woman becomes pregnant, her risk of type 2 diabetes increases for the rest of her life, perhaps because ...
organic hillside sweet corn x

Organic v conventional using GMOs: Which is the more sustainable farming?

Many consumers spend more for organic food to avoid genetically modified products in part because they believe that “industrial agriculture” ...
benjamin franklin x

Are most GMO safety studies funded by industry?

The assertion that biotech companies do the research and the government just signs off on it is false ...
gmo corn field x

Do GMO Bt (insect-resistant) crops pose a threat to human health or the environment?

Bt is a bacterium found organically in the soil. It is extremely effective in repelling or killing target insects but ...

Environmental Working Group: EWG challenges safety of GMOs, food pesticide residues

Known by some as the "Environmental Worrying Group," EWG lobbies for tighter GMO legislation and famously puts out annual "dirty dozen" list of fruits and ...
m hansen

Michael Hansen: Architect of Consumers Union ongoing anti-GMO campaign

Michael K. Hansen (born 1956) is thought by critics to be the prime mover behind the ongoing campaign against agricultural biotechnology at Consumer Reports. He is an ...
News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.
Send this to a friend