Sunday, 23 August 2009

DNA database - a human scrapyard catalogue.

Looking for spares? I have just the thing.

Tom Harris put up a tongue-in-cheek post about getting the police to accept his DNA on the Database of Life. Dry humour, but humour nonetheless.

Iain Dale did not see the funny side.

Mr. Harris's little joke, while not at all funny to all those who have been arrested for trivia, released without charge and added to the database anyway, will have no effect at all on his own election chances in Glasgow. It won't have much, if any, effect on Labour in England and Wales either because Labour supporters have bought in to the 'anyone objecting is hiding something' lie. The reason it won't have any effect in Scotland is the same, plus...

The difference between the two is down to geography. Mr. Harris is in Scotland, where the police cannot take your DNA unless you are charged with something and can't keep it unless you are convicted. So his constituents will not be up in arms at his little joke. They haven't experienced the cataloguing of everyone, guilty or innocent - yet.

Iain Dale might well be on that database and if he isn't, he probably knows someone who is. South of the border, the police can take your DNA when they arrest you even if they decide not to charge you with anything, and it goes on the database regardless. So Mr. Dale lives where he can be directly affected by this Argos-catalogue of humanity. Mr. Harris does not.

Because of this, Mr. Harris regards concerns over the retention of everyone's DNA as mere paranoia. I can see why he'd think that way. A simple comparison of policing between the two countries shows that down south, the police are far more likely to make an arrest for a trivial offence, or to carry out their jackboot-style dawn raids, than here in Scotland. Since there's no mileage in collecting another DNA sample here, you're more likely to get a ticking off, a warning or a spot fine for being naughty. You won't be taken to the station unless you've been really bad.

Police in Scotland are still in the role of revenue collectors, just like down south, and they have targets so you have to be very careful towards the end of the month, but they are not DNA collectors so they don't need to bring in every suspect for sampling.

In Manchester, the police have just picked up 454 new samples in dawn raids (dawn raids on drunks being just a little more vindictive than necessary, I'd have thought). How many will be charged? Ten percent? Five percent? How many will be on that database? All of them.

So what's the big deal? Most of the comments in support of the database include 'nothing to hide, nothing to fear' and 'DNA is complicated so it can't be used to fit people up', both of which are rubbish and the latter statement especially so.

I can set up a DNA replication lab, within my existing lab, for around £5000. I've used the technology before because it has applications in bacterial identification and it's really not difficult to use. I wouldn't need as much gear to copy DNA as I would for a bacterial analysis because I don't need to sequence the sample after I've made it. With a little sample of your DNA I can make many copies and strew them around crime scenes. I don't even have to know the sequence of your DNA to do this. With the help of accomplices I could leave evidence that will show that you committed five crimes simultaneously in three different UK cities while you were on holiday in Australia. Who will the court believe? You or the DNA? You really want to risk it? It's DNA remember. You can't argue with DNA.

If I was a Government funded lab set up to dispose of awkward people, I could assemble a copy of your DNA without ever seeing a sample. I could do it from the sequence on the database. We need never meet. This technology is not new, it's not something out of science fiction, it's been around for quite a few years now. All those GM crops - how do you think they constructed the genes to splice into the plants? All those bacteria modified to produce antibiotics - how did they do that?

There is equipment in research labs all over the place that can assemble a specific DNA strand from bottles of chemicals. It's automated. You give it the sequence and go home, and it's made the DNA in the morning. This equipment is not new. I watched one of these things in action five years ago (it was used for perfectly benign purposes in actual research) and it's an impressive piece of machinery.

DNA is made of four chemicals. Four. The order of these chemicals in the strand is what determines the action of genes, but there are only four chemicals involved. Almost all the machinery used to handle DNA has now been automated to the extent that you could train a badger to use it. Maybe even an MP. Replicating, sequencing and assembling DNA isn't the subject of research these days. It's an established research tool.

Getting a copy of your DNA made is no problem at all. A sample would work, but you don't even need a sample if you have the sequence written down. You don't need to copy the entire human genome, just enough to match the entry in the database. Piece, as they say, of piss.

Criminal gangs can easily afford to do all this and they can easily find someone far more expert than me in this subject who has a degree and no job and who is desperate and open to offers. The cost is nothing compared to the money going through drug barons or people traffickers' hands. All they need do is to watch train seats for USB sticks and they'll have that database. Fancy having a gang come after you because some Saudi millionaire needs a heart transplant, and you're a match? Or maybe your liver matches a Russian yacht-owner who's overdone the vodka while partying with an unelected leader of some country or other. It's not just governments disposing of dissidents you need to be concerned with. This government will - definitely - lose the database as they have with all the others. Then it's open season on your kidneys.

Nothing to hide?

How about your internal organs? I don't know about you, but I like mine just where they are, thanks.

(Although I've pretty much wrecked most of mine by now. Anyone stealing my lungs or liver for a transplant is going to get a nasty shock).


subrosa said...

Thank goodness I'll possibly be dead before this comes to Scotland. Very worrying for my friends south of the border though and thanks so much for the lucid explanation.

calais said...

Leg-iron , some powerful points there. An extremely unpleasant experience awaits some of those on the db. The almost inevitable loss of the uk dnadb, the trend to commoditisation of dna manipulation techniques (and their criminal usage) seem to guarantee it.

On the other hand it provides a neat little sliver of bamboo to hammer under labourite nails whenever they defend the current english dna system.

The cops for one reason or another arrest, proportionately, many more black men than white.

Something like 1 in 2 of all uk black men and 1 in 10 white men are on the db and they never come off.

Hundreds of thousands of these weren't even charged, never mind tried, and are innocent.

All of them now fail a CRB check and suffer serious job discrimination.

Labour racially discriminate against 100,000+ innocent black men.- FACT

Labourites are Racists - FACT

Leg-iron said...

Calais, that's the tip of the iceberg.

In May 2007 I thought this way:

I was more flippant in those days. Just playing with blogs and had not yet found the true face of the Righteous. A commenter said it wouldn't happen in our lifetimes. It happened.

Muslims were set up to be the fall guys from the start - because their countries have oil. They were given concessions on everything. Now that tide is turning on them.

Muslims, don't blame us. We didn't do it. We were set up too.

Anonymous said...

Very frightening Leg-Iron. And as Plod has never been adverse to planting 'proof' what better way to resolve the problem of political dissidents?

calais said...

Leg-iron , re 4894.html I agree about the power of the labelling (facist/nazi/racist) used by the pc scammers.Obviously, of course, why its used so frequently.

I think part of its power also comes from the belief of the labeller in its truth. So the pc are not,perhaps, entirely scamming.

This tho just magnifies the power of the label when it can be legitimately attached back to the pc scammer.

Labour supporters of the english dna database ARE racists, in their own terms, and it hurts.


Dick the Prick said...

Disturbing stuff indeed. I've sort of taken myself out of the full argument because I was incredibly guilty but I could only imagine my fury had I not been. On the organ donation thing: I'll see your liver and lungs and raise you heart and nuts (op soon) - pity the fool who gets any of mine.

Oh, just for the record - never ever go to your docs for a liver function test (lvt) as the cunts have access to your medical records - another joy of the NHS - state owned vetinary records.

JD said...

Surely any self-respecting crim (oxymoron?) will be leaving random DNA samples at every crime scene these days. There is DNA all over the place, sitting there to be gathered - hairdressers' trimmings, slops from glasses in every pub/restaurant etc..
Surely this fact alone is enough to make the evidence of DNA at a crime scene irrelevant? It's certainly easier than leaving a bunch of different fingerprints around a crime scene.

The Paragnostic said...

Leg-Iron - great and thought-provoking post as usual, but I'd have to contest the idea that you could create a fake DNA sample merely from the 'sequence' stored in the DB.

I reckon it's technically feasible, but only by building some fake DNA that would then produce the same trace as the 'sequence' on the DB.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the DB store the results of a standard test using standard reagents that then produce a 'sequence' by splitting the DNA at certain points, then using electrophoresis to make a 'sequence' of bands that are then stored?

If that is the case, then you can't simply grab the DB, build the DNA base by base then use PCR to make enough to leave around - you'd have to examine the 'sequence', determine the molecular weights of the required fragments and then build some fake DNA to order before using PCR to make lots of copies. Sure, it's a tractable problem, but orders of magnitude harder than nicking the reference sample and making copies from that, or getting your own sample from whoever you want to target and copying it.

But then I was an inorganic chemist in an earlier life (before the death of industry), so I'm not a DNA guru.

I still object to the Stasi-like implementation of the DB, but reckon the copying issue is a bit harder than you portray.

A.B. Gordon said...

Excellent. Once plod in England get 25% of the population then exponentially they will have virtually everyone. That is the target figure.The University of Leeds only uses a small number of loci so the "million to one" scenario is bullshit. They multipy figures instead of adding them. Yes, you pointed out about tetranucleotides and ACGT. With the Marper ruling plod should have relented and deleted. They have such a track record of mendacity that who would give any credency to suggestions that they had erased innocent samples?

Gallimaufry said...

When Bill Clinton stayed at the Swallow Hotel (really) in Birmingham for the G7/8 in the nineties, he and the Secret Service and press went for a pint of warm English beer at the Malt Shovel pub by the canal. After POTUS finished his pint he put his glass down on the table for it to be immediately picked up and smashed to smithereens in a bin by Agent Smith. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear - of course not, even then.

Anonymous said...

Dick - liver function tests are LFTs. There's no national database of blood results & DNA analysed at different labs to routine biochemistry. Admittedly genetic testing 'research' programmes are being established that require samples from public. These are more worrying and funded by govmt

Maturecheese said...


I just can't see step 6 happening which kind of flaws the theory.

This doesn't mean I support this bunch of Bastards though, I detest the PC crowd.

Man in the Street said...

Sorry o/t but ... Secret report reveals Labour is failing troops. Fucking useless criminally incompetent bastards.

bofl-too lazy to sign in! said...

i had an interesting brush with plod last year......someone had phoned them and said that i was a suspect in a particularly nasty sexual attack!

the suspect in fact had dark brown hair,dark mediterranean type skin and a thick black moustache........

it must have been 100% obvious that i was NOT the person they were after as i have very blond hair, blue eyes and a pale complexion.........but i still had to give them a dna sample!

'just to rule me out'.........

i signed a form asking them to delete my details from their records (assuming i was innocent) and i duly got a letter about 3 weeks later confirming that i was in the clear and that the sample had been destroyed........

when the female detective left she said something like 'try not to worry too much-i know it can be worrying when you are waiting around for something like this'........

to which i replied 'i'm not worried at all'.............

i have never ever been to the town where the attack occurred yet in her mind maybe we are all suspects?

A.B. Gordon said...

BOLF 11.41. You are not alone. I saw what plod can do in cases like this. Previously I thought it was just "villains" that were coming out with sour grapes. It works like this. They get a "name in the frame" and then alter facts to fit their scenario. Ask DS 501 Lawrence of Hertfordshire.

Chalcedon said...

I bought a DNA synthesiser in 1984 (ho ho) from Applied Biosystems. It cost £50K (dollar pound parity back then). Only 2 in the country, mine and the one at the Sanger Institute.

Only the scientifically illiterate such as judges and lawyers believe that DNA evidence is 100% true.

Mind you, think of the research potential if you had everyones DNA on a database? Of course my second ambition is to conquer the universe.

Anonymous said...

OH< here's a question - if DNA can be manufactured as a copy from a database, could it be used to fertilise a human ovum? in which case, a nice business in "fitting up" millionaires for paternity suites is likely on the cards.
or, if a chimpanzee ovum is fertilised with copied DNA. the resulting hybrid could name his own price (lifetime supply of bananas and a speedboat?) to keep well hidden.

Anonymous said...

How incredibly refreshing to have some genuine scientific content on the blog. Congratulations LI.

A.B. Gordon said...

Anon 12.29 one could do as Ms Erimivova did with Becker and take a mouthful then whack it up the old frou-frou.

Doubting Richard said...

Not just the possibility of fraud but the possibility of error. People don't understand statistics. juries are not statisticians. Expert witnesses are often poor statisticians (that is what put Sally Clarke away), and so inadvertently lie.

The chances of a specific sample matching a known suspect is billions to one if the DNA is not his. The problem is there are thousands of DNA tests from crime scenes each year, and the government wants millions of samples on the database.

Suddenly the chances of the odd erroneous match get startlingly close to evens (it's a very similar counter-intuitive calculation to the well-known 50:50 probability of two people on a football pitch sharing a birthday). Yet the person presenting the evidence probably doesn't understand that. The jury almost certainly does not. Eventually you start getting erroneous matches for people who could have committed the crime.

If the problem is recognised then the DNA database becomes all but useless. As is the case now, by the way. It is used to find a suspect in a vanishingly small number of cases. Don't believe anything you see on CSI.

Doubting Richard said...

Oh, what I forgot to point out, the more people on the database the more chance of someone who had been there before the crime being picked up erroneously too. Also what if some tow-rag is on the database, picks up a lass, have a quickie in the nightclub loo then she gets murdered or killed by a drunk hit and run on the way home? Suddenly a rape-murder conviction heading towards someone who mightn't be pleasant, but does not deserve that!

The only way to use DNA is to rule out a suspect, to confirm a suspect has lied about never visiting the scene, or to confirm a suspect has left a particular semen sample. The database is not needed for any of that!

Anonymous said...

My lady has just come back from a night in the small town of cirencester which has recently seen some trouble.
Apparently there is a large police presence and they are going around swabbing people..........

Leg-iron said...

Paragnostic - what you're saying makes it easier to make copies. All you need is to make a strand with target points inserted so it'll break into the right number of pieces, of the right lengths, when it's tested. Aside from those points, none of the rest has to match anything.

So it's easier than I thought.

Leg-iron said...

Chalcedon - 1984? You lucky sod. The lab I was in at the time were just starting on molecular work and it was all glass and water baths.

There's a seriously good molecular lab down the road from me, and the stuff they have in there looks like the engine room from Star Trek.

I should revise my cost estimate - if I take a DNA sample to them they'll replicate it for me for less than £100.

Although they might ask a few questions...

Leg-iron said...

Anon 12:29 - not yet. You'd have to synthesise an entire genome, fit it into chromosomes and build a whole sperm cell around it.

There is current research on doing that (the easy way, using cells from a donor to generate artificial sperm) but it doesn't reliably work yet.

Currently, to build the whole cell from scratch, assuming it could be done, would cost more than anyone could pay in a paternity suit. That's not likely to be an issue for a long time.

A cheaper criminal alternative is just to switch the test samples in the lab. All you need is a corrupt technician.

The Paragnostic said...

Leg-Iron - you're right.

I hadn't thought of looking at the problem from that angle - makes it even more frightening rather than less.

Might be a fun idea to try it out if, for example, we could get Postman Pat's profile and stick it on a pretend letter bomb.

And yes, we've just won the Ashes!

Leg-iron said...

Paragnostic - if the testing lab assumes that the sample is human and does no supplemetary testing (ie checking for human-specific antigens in the sample) then the method you describe won't distinguish between a human and a chimp.

It might not spot the difference between a human and a banana.

The potential to have fun with this is enormous, just coat the inside of your cheeks with banana and give your name as Mr. Fyffe.

Dawn raids at the greengrocer's will be worth getting up to watch.

Ratings and Recommendations by outbrain


Related Posts with Thumbnails