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article imageFamilies found from DNA data of anonymous study volunteers

By Katerina Nikolas     Jan 20, 2013 in Science
Scientific researchers have discovered that DNA from men can be used to guess their surnames and identify their families. Now a genetics researcher has found the families of five anonymous volunteers who participated in the 1000 Genomes Project.
Privacy concerns have been raised following the news that Doctor Yaniv Erlich, a human genetics researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, penetrated a scientific database holding the genomes sequence of anonymous volunteers, using the information to identify their families.
The Independent reported Dr. Erlich did not publish the names he found from a string of DNA letters, as he tested the vulnerability of personal data held in DNA libraries.
Dr. Erlich took the online DNA information from an anonymous volunteer of the 1000 Genomes Project. According to Sott Net "He got the Y chromosome's short tandem repeats and then went to genealogy databases and searched for men with those same repeats. He got surnames of the paternal and maternal grandfather. Then he did a Google search for those people and found an obituary. That gave him the family tree." His research shows that it is not possible to protect the privacy of online DNA data.
Dr. Erlich said: “This is an important result that points out the potential for breaches of privacy in genomic studies. Our aim is to better illuminate the current status of identifiability of genetic data. More knowledge empowers participants to weigh the risk and benefits and make more informed decisions when considering whether to share their own data.
We also hope that this study will eventually result in better security algorithms, better policy guidelines, and better legislation to help mitigate some of the risks."
Haarataz reported that in addition to the findings in the U.S., Israeli scientists have also discovered that a man's surname can be guessed through DNA.
More about Dna, National Human Genome Research Institute, genetic data, 1000 Genomes Project, Yaniv Erlich
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