It was a landmark achievement with the implication to solve any crime. In March 2018, US police tracked down the Golden State serial killer, who had gone undetected for 40 years, by identifying members of his family on a commercial DNA database. It was the first time investigative genetic genealogy had been used to crack a case and helped spawn a new discipline.
Since then, genetic genealogy has been used to catch nearly 300 killers. If the DNA profiles of just 3% of the population are on a database, you can find anyone. A point already reached in the United States and China. But as DNA can easily become contaminated or transferred, DNA profiles have also led to people being wrongly convicted.
And there are wider implications at stake. When the remains of a 20-week-old foetus were found in the sewer in Georgia, the police analyzed the DNA of the foetus, and, with genetic genealogy, tracked down the mother. Faced with a public outcry following her arrest, charges were dropped. But since then, another two other women whose pregnancies also ended in unclear circumstances have been tracked down through genetic genealogy. In Hong Kong, DNA taken from cigarette butts was used to identify and publicly shame litterers.
So who should have access to these datatbases? And under what circumstances?
Since the discovery of DNA, the idea that genes are somehow responsible for everything has permeated society. But as this film shows, the science underpinning these beliefs has been thoroughly debunked.More info