DNA solves a 25 year old rape/murder in a new way

It probably won’t make national news, but a 25 year old rape/murder of a 24 year old school teacher was solved with a new way to use DNA.  Yes, the cops had a DNA sample; but no matches were found in the national databases.  Recently they sent some DNA to https://www.parabon-nanolabs.com, a company that claims to produce a descriptive profile of the source of any human DNA sample, including pigmentation, face morphology, and other forensically relevant traits.  Sounds like total BS but it worked.

Law enforcement had worked on the case for 25 years, and the parents never gave up. Over the years they compiled a long list of suspects and persons of interest.  The physical description produced by the company allowed the police to narrow down the list of possible suspects and focus on a smaller group.  Prior to receiving the Parabon information, the DA’s office had begun reexamining all the evidence and reviewing the stories of all the many subjects interviewed over the years, in an attempt to rule out suspects.

In the last few months, the DA’s office went through legal processes to get court orders to compel people of interest to provide DNA samples.  Now that’s fascinating — aren’t you supposed to be protected against self-incrimination — clearly something to ask my nephew — who is an attorney very interested in such matters.  I’ll put in addendum from him.

That was how investigators showed up at the suspect’s residence last week to execute a court order compelling him to give a sample.  He was not home at the time, but investigators left a message explaining why they were there.  The suspect upon learning this, bolted to another state, where he apparently tried to kill himself.  He has apparently confessed.  God only knows what else he’s done in the past 25 years.

Addendum 25 Sep ’17

The following work by Venter is scary with its implications for privacy [ Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. vol. 114 pp. 10166 -b10171 ’17 ]

Prediction of human physical traits and demographic informa- tion from genomic data challenges privacy and data deidenti- fication in personalized medicine. To explore the current capa- bilities of phenotype-based genomic identification, we applied whole-genome sequencing, detailed phenotyping, and statistical modeling to predict biometric traits in a cohort of 1,061 partici- pants of diverse ancestry. Individually, for a large fraction of the traits, their predictive accuracy beyond ancestry and demographic information is limited. However, we have developed a maximum entropy algorithm that integrates multiple predictions to deter- mine which genomic samples and phenotype measurements origi- nate from the same person. Using this algorithm, we have reiden- tified an average of >8 of 10 held-out individuals in an ethnically mixed cohort and an average of 5 of either 10 African Americans or 10 Europeans. This work challenges current conceptions of personal privacy and may have far-reaching ethical and legal implications.

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Comments

  • Slava Bernat  On September 20, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    Very timely story, right when Craig Venter’s Human Longevity raised concerns about privacy of genomic data, and other scientists rushed to refute the claims.

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