Special Report

Forensic Science: New Tech Identifies Human DNA Floating In Air

June 02, 2023 by Madison Ferguson in Special Report  
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Tech That Identifies Human DNA Floating In The Air

Environmental DNA/eDNA refers to DNA derived from natural surroundings like water, sand, and air. People regularly shed small DNA fragments through sweat, saliva, blood, and skin. Tiny pieces scatter throughout Earth’s surroundings. Scientists at the University of Florida found an effortless way to obtain high-quality human DNA from air, sand, and water, which raises ethical issues concerning privacy and agreement. Ethical concerns encompass consent, privacy, surveillance, and data ownership. More thought and innovative rules are necessary.

Researchers at the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience and Sea Turtle Hospital at the University of Florida analyzed endangered green sea turtles, tracking the viruses that affect them using environmental DNA from their tracks on the sand. However, they also discovered that they were retrieving human DNA in the sand and surrounding water sources.

They labeled the information as “human genetic bycatch” and chose to investigate it further.

Duffy analyzed water samples from Florida’s subtropical regions and the Avoca River in County Wicklow, Ireland. The river in Arklow detected human DNA, but not in the upper areas, devoid of human presence.

They obtained DNA from footprints created by four volunteers in the sand. By approval, they sequenced a portion of the subject’s DNA. Then, the scientists collected air samples from a 280-square-foot room in an animal clinic where six individuals performed their usual daily activities. The DNA retrieved was a match for the animal patients, staff volunteers, and prevalent animal viruses.

With the information gathered, scientists detected genetic variants linked to European and Latino populations and variations related to various diseases like autism, diabetes, eye diseases, cancer, and cardiac diseases.
Researchers state that ethical limitations must be established for using eDNA since it aids individual identification. The study was conducted with permission from the institutional review panel at the University of Florida to ensure adherence to ethical guidelines in research.

Possible harmful uses of environmental DNA.

eDNA data capture can be exploited for malicious purposes like genome harvesting, unauthorized collection of human genetic information for commercial or nefarious reasons, genetic monitoring, and bio-piracy involving seizing human genetic data from different countries and populations.

Genome harvesting is the unauthorized extraction of human genomic data from local communities or ethnic groups without their permission or awareness.

Genetic surveillance can monitor individuals for identification purposes, as seen in forensics and wildlife studies, or for inappropriate tracking of ethnic communities.

Investigative applications may result in involuntary genetic surveillance. Detectives and scientists may recover a bystander’s genetic information.

Stealing human genetic data from populations and countries is like stealing genetic information from plants and animals.

The advantages of eDNA for humanity.

As the field of human eDNA continues to grow, a variety of potential uses could be beneficial. These include discovering new genetic variations in humans, studying disease susceptibility across populations, monitoring an individual’s genetic health non-invasively, locating missing persons, using eDNA in forensic investigations, and conducting archaeological surveys. These are just some of the various possible applications that could arise as the understanding of human eDNA expands.

Finding new genetic variations can fix the unequal representation in human genomic databases lacking diversity.
Analysts can conduct active pathogen surveillance and population-based disease risk susceptibility studies by examining air or wastewater samples.

Scientists can examine the genetics of the host without the need for any invasive methods. Additionally, they can conduct studies on the quantity of disease-causing agents present and their spread.

The study found that eDNA from humans can assist in ongoing health monitoring and tracking biomarkers for personalized medicine. These methods will aid in managing chronic illnesses, particularly spontaneous somatic mutations that can lead to severe conditions such as cancer. This suggests that eDNA can be a valuable tool in personalized medicine.

According to the research, eDNA can accurately detect and identify human waste in water sources.

Air eDNA has proven beneficial in aiding forensic investigators and scientists in solving crimes and conducting criminal investigations.

The genetic traces left behind by humans (eDNA, can be crucial in locating lost persons or deceased remains, particularly in remote and desolate regions.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) can assist in identifying and preserving important archaeological sites that contain cryptic human remains, such as sites where sacrifices may have occurred.

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