May 21, 2019

Your DNA is Showing

“Ancestry and 23andMe said they zealously guard the privacy of their testing results, but the data can become accessible when uploaded to other databases. “Your chance of finding someone that is a third cousin is about 60 percent in U.S. individuals with European ancestry,” says Yaniv Erlich, the first author of the paper and the chief science officer of MyHeritage. He suggested it might be wise to encrypt genetic data to protect personal information, although that could complicate the type of searches police and researchers wish to make.

The technique relies on links between distant relatives. “Think of your family like layers of an onion,” he says. Your closest relatives are parents, children and siblings. The next layer is first cousins, which you might have in higher numbers. Another layer and you reach second cousins, and so on until you could find yourself related to many third cousins you don’t know at all. “When you go to very distant relatives, chances of a link are much higher,” he says. These kinds of links were used earlier this year to identify a suspect in the case of the alleged Golden State Killer, who was connected to the crimes partially via the DNA of relatives in a genetic database.

Once police had genetic links to distant relatives, they could draw a large, complex family tree, possibly too large to analyze. But then they could exclude many of the linked individuals based on other data—where they live, their age, their sex and so forth, Erlich notes. Much of that information comes from widely shared family trees drawn by consumers. After pruning the data that way, a pool of, say, 850 relatives could be reduced to 15 who might plausibly be connected to the crimes in question.

Then police can start knocking on doors and doing the kind of investigation they do routinely. “It’s really only over the last year that the ability to use these public genealogical databases for identifying individuals became clear,” says Daniel MacArthur, group leader of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit. “The academic community didn’t appreciate how large these databases are and how readily they could be used to triangulate genetic identity.””

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"The biggest topic in British political circles on Monday wasn’t the country’s impending departure from the European Union. It was milkshakes..."

"I often disagree with Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., but I've been disturbed by the idea that he should be run out of the Republican Party just because he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses."

"The Icelandic band Hatari, whose members are quite vocal in their animosity towards Israel, held up Palestinian flags... Madonna, likewise, had two of her performers wear Israeli and Palestinian flags on their costumes."

"To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, I turn to movie critic Roger Ebert's old review of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." (Trust me on this one.)"

"The money is already here—and has been for years. In the midst of a housing crisis, an injection of cash into the superheated real-estate market seems likely to cause an uptick in evictions and displacement."

"Parents concerned about YouTube debate whether to let their children have their own channels; some forbid it, others send them to summer camp..."

"‘I Had Completely Lost the Knack for Staying Alive..." Warmer weather brings daffodils, rhubarb at the farmer’s market — and, for some, despair."

"With his new book, Howard Stern proves that his rightful place is among the prophets and moral visionaries, not the ‘shock jocks’"

"I’m terrified of parenting in the anti-vaxxer age: Anti-vaccine propaganda isn’t just harmful to children. It threatens to erode our entire sense of community."

"...doctors are starting to think more about specific nutrients that feed tumor cells. That is, how what we eat affects how cancers grow..."

"...it represents an impressive achievement: a victory of humankind against the chaos that pervades the universe."

"If trends continue, in 20 years the majority of the world’s Jews will be living in Israel. The United States will see a continuing decline in overall numbers, with a growing observant Jewish population..."