Fools Gold

Fact: DNA evidence can be faked. 

DNA fingerprinting has become the ‘gold standard’ in forensic science for the identification of criminals, and has been billed as reliable and trustworthy beyond repute. But a new study calls that all into question.

Recent research has shown that in-vitro DNA synthesis – which has become so simple that any hungover biology undergraduate could stumble through it successfully  – can be used to create fabricated DNA which could be planted at a crime scene. The spin-out company formed by these scientists (Nucleix) proved its point by sending a female’s modified blood sample to a forensics lab… which promptly identified it as a male’s.

The easiest method of creating fake DNA evidence is just copying it from an existing DNA sample. This could be a valuable step if looking to plant evidence, as a faked blood or semen sample at a crime scene may appear more genuine (and be more likely to be detected) than a stray hair or some hidden fingerprints (which are also much harder to fake).

However, the most terrifying aspect of this work is scientists were able to fabricate DNA from scratch (i.e. without an original DNA sample) provided they had access to your genetic code. This raises the issue of your genetic privacy, as in the future by just hacking the right database a malevolent individual could frame you for murder or blackmail you with a prison sentence, since our criminal justice system believes DNA evidence is watertight.

Luckily, the same company that has been developing these methods has also developed a test to distinguish between faked and real DNA evidence. Which they, of course, will be selling. Discuss the moral conundrums there amongst yourselves.

‘Another one of Mr Shaunak’s Little Bites of Science’
Image under creative commons license, taken by ynse


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