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The Presence of Trace DNA in Water, Sand, and Air can Reveal Your Identity, Leading to Privacy Concerns.


Researchers were able to collect healthy human DNA in water samples from a river in Florida. Credit: Todd Osborne, CC BY-ND

Human DNA can be sequenced from small amounts of water, sand, and air in the environment Possibly extract specific information such as genetic ancestry, gender and health risks, according to our new research.

every cell of the body Contains DNA. Since each person has a unique genetic code, DNA can be used to identify individuals. Medical practitioners and researchers usually obtain human DNA through direct sampling, such as blood tests, swabs, or biopsies. However, all living things, including animals, plants, and microbes, Shedding DNA down. Water, soil and even air contain microscopic particles of biological material from living organisms.

The DNA shed by an organism into the environment is known as DNA Environmental DNA, or eDNA. Over the past two decades, scientists have been able to collect and sequence eDNA from soil or water samples to monitor biodiversity, wildlife populations and disease-causing pathogens. Track rare or elusive endangered species through their eDNA It has been a boon for researchers, as traditional monitoring methods such as monitoring or trapping can be difficult, often unsuccessful and intrusive to species of interest.

Researchers using eDNA tools usually focus only on the species they study and ignore DNA from other species. However, humans also shed, cough and expel DNA into the environment around them. And as our team of geneticists, Ecologists And marine biologists In the Duffy Lab at the University of Florida, Signs of human life can be found everywhere But in the most isolated of places.

The authors and their colleagues use environmental DNA to study sea turtles.

Animals, humans, and viruses in eDNA

Our team is using environmental DNA for the study Endangered sea turtles and viral tumors to which they are susceptible. A hatchling sea turtle sheds its DNA as it crawls along the beach on its way to the ocean shortly after it is born. The sand was swept away from their tracks It contains enough DNA to provide valuable insights into turtles, herpesviruses and the fibrous papillomaviruses they infect. Scoop a liter of water from the tank A sea turtle recovering under veterinary care provides equally a wealth of genetic information for research. Unlike blood or skin samples, eDNA collection causes no stress to the animal.

The genetic sequencing technology used to decode DNA has improved rapidly in recent years, and it is now possible to easily sequence the DNA of every organism in a sample of the environment. Our team suspected that the sand and water samples we were using to study sea turtles would also contain DNA from a number of other species — including, of course, humans. What we didn’t know is Just how useful they are The human DNA we can extract will be.

To find out, we sampled a variety of locations in Florida, including urban and rural oceans and rivers, sands from isolated beaches and remote islands people don’t usually visit. We found human DNA at all but the most remote island of those sites, and these samples were high enough quality for analysis and sequencing.

We also tested the technology in Ireland, tracing the length of a river that flows from a remote mountaintop, through small rural villages and down to the sea in a larger town of 13,000 residents. We found human DNA everywhere but in the remote mountain tributary where the river begins, far from human habitation.

We also collected air samples from a room at the Wildlife Veterinary Hospital in Florida. The people who were present in the room gave us permission to take air samples. We recovered DNA matched from the subjects, the animal patient, and common animal viruses present at the time of collection.

You dump DNA wherever you go - tracing samples in water, sand and air is enough to identify you, raising ethical questions

Human eDNA can be collected and analyzed from a variety of sources. Credit: Liam Whitmore / Created with BioRender.com, CC BY-NC-ND

Surprisingly, the human eDNA found in the local environment was intact enough to identify mutations associated with the disease and to determine the genetic ancestry of people living in the area. Even sequencing the DNA the volunteers left in their footprints in the sand yielded part of their sex chromosomes.

Ethical implications of human eDNA collection

Our team describes the inadvertent recovery of human DNA from environmental samples “Human Genetic Bycatch”. We invite a deeper discussion about how to ethically handle environmental human DNA.

Human eDNA could offer major advances in research in areas as diverse as conservation, epidemiology, forensics, and agriculture. If handled properly, human eDNA could help archaeologists track down ancient, undiscovered human settlements, and allow biologists to Monitoring for cancer mutations in a specific population Or provide law enforcement agencies Useful information in forensics.

However, there are also many ethical implications related to the unintentional or intentional collection and analysis of human genetic bycatch. Identifiable information can be extracted from eDNA, and access to this level of detail about individuals or populations comes with responsibilities of consent and confidentiality.

You dump DNA wherever you go - tracing samples in water, sand and air is enough to identify you, raising ethical questions

The researchers extracted specific genetic information from the footprints in the sand. Credit: David Duffy, CC BY-ND

While we conducted our study with consent Institutional review boardensuring that studies of people adhere to ethical research guidelines, there is no guarantee that everyone will handle this type of information ethically.

Many questions arise regarding environmental human DNA. For example, who should have access to human eDNA sequences? Should this information be made available to the public? Should consent be sought before human eDNA samples are taken, and from whom? Should researchers remove human genetic information from samples originally collected to identify other species?

We believe it is essential to implement regulations that ensure that data is collected, analyzed, and stored ethically and appropriately. Policy makers, the scientific community, and other stakeholders need to take human eDNA collection seriously and balance consent and privacy against the potential benefits of eDNA study. Asking these questions now can help ensure that everyone understands the capabilities of eDNA and provide more time to develop protocols and regulations to ensure the appropriate use of eDNA technologies and the ethical handling of human genetic bycatch.

Introduction to the conversation

This article has been republished from Conversation Under Creative Commons Licence. Read the The original article.Conversation

the quote: Tracing DNA samples in water, sand and air is enough to identify you, raising ethical questions about privacy (2023, May 20) Retrieved May 20, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-dna-samples -sand-air-ethical.html

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