Novel uses for DNA

The UK Border Agency has just announced a new initiative – you may have seen a bit about it in the Observer this week.

It’s called the ‘Human Provenance pilot project’ and the ‘stakeholder letter’ sent out a couple of weeks ago by UKBA explains:

Human Provenance testing analyses the isotope configuration as stored in a person’s body. All samples will be provided voluntarily. The analysis itself involves the testing of hair and nail samples to allow us to be able to match results using internationally recognised isotope comparison methods to help identify a person’s true country of origin. We will also be testing mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA, which are collected by use of a mouth swab and matching results using similar comparative methods. These samples will not provide specific information about a person’s identity but simply an indication of their possible nationality allowing other investigations to be made.

See this statement from the British Society for Human Genetics if you want to know why the use of DNA to determine ethnic origin is a seriously daft idea.

UKBA’s letter continues:

…The pilot will also address the issue of children being brought to ASU as part of an asylum seeking family when they are in fact unrelated.

Oh, terrific. Quite apart from the sheer inhumanity of revealing possible family secrets to an already traumatised child and risking family meltdown, the whole idea gives off a whiff of the project’s designers having led blissfully sheltered lives. There are any number of reasons, beyond the obvious, why children may not be related to their fathers – or even to their ‘families’. Rape isn’t exactly unknown in war-zones and women may be too ashamed or frightened to reveal it. Children get informally adopted into other families when their parents are killed, or their family of origin scattered in conflict zones. Cultural definitions of ‘family’ can vary – consider polygamy for example – and actually, most of us have uncles and aunts with whom we share no DNA at all.

The idea that the project is ‘voluntary’ is simply laughable. Someone who is dispossessed and scared isn’t exactly in a strong position to assert preferences. As for the word ‘pilot’, I think it translates as: let’s use a few asylum-seekers as crash-test dummies for some dodgy science.

Still, I’m wondering about this mitochondrial DNA idea. Maybe mine would reveal that my roots are somewhere in the Seychelles and I could agree to be repatriated?


4 Responses to Novel uses for DNA

  1. […] See more here:  Novel uses for DNA […]

  2. […] Novel uses for DNA « The ARCH Blog – view page – cached The UK Border Agency has just announced a new initiative – you may have seen a bit about it in the Observer this week. — From the page […]

  3. […] naive and flawed Those adjectives don’t refer to UKBA, of course, but to their Human Provenance Project which is being chewed up and spat out in Science Magazine: Scientists are greeting with surprise […]

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