Identifying Individuals Through Anonymous DNA
The New York Times has an interesting story about researchers who were able to associate specific individuals with DNA submitted anonymously and made publicly available for medical research purposes.
Now for the big test. On the Web and publicly available are DNA sequences from subjects in the 1000 Genomes Project. People’s ages were included and all the Americans lived in Utah, so the researchers knew their state.
Dr. Erlich began with one man from the database. 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.
“Now I knew the whole family,” Dr. Erlich said. And it was so simple, so fast.“I said, ‘Come on, that can’t be true.’” So he probed and searched and checked again and again.
“Oh my God, we really did this,” Dr. Erlich said. “I had to digest it. We had so much information.”