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Who Owns Your DNA?

An article in today’s New York Times, “Stalking Strangers’ DNA to Fill in the Family Tree” by Amy Harmon, looks at the extremes that some genetic genealogists have gone to to ‘obtain’ DNA from other people for analysis. The genetic genealogists in the article have stalked potential relatives and one keeps a DNA kit in his fridge awaiting his uncooperative father’s demise.

I recently asked my father’s first cousin to take a DNA test since he possessed the only surviving mtDNA from my great-grandmother, and orphan. The two lines had connected in 30 or 40 years, but once I made contact he was very interested in taking the test. The results provided the only clues I have regarding my great-grandmother’s ancestry. If that source had been unwilling to participate, I own some letters that my great-grandmother had written and I could have analyzed the DNA from the envelopes. I do understand the desire to analyze someone else’s DNA, but stalking people and waiting for them to die seems a bit extreme.

I expect there will be legislation in this field in the next few years, especially given the dropping prices for whole-genome sequencing. For a reasonable amount of money (the current goal is a $1000 genome) a genetic genealogist could gather every bit of genealogical information from another person. That genealogical information would also include, however, information about disease and personality potentials.

If I leave a trail of DNA everywhere I go (which we all do), do I still have rights to that DNA? Can anyone come along, scoop it up, and sequence it? These questions will be hotly debated in the not-too-distant future.

Here are some other blog discussions (here, here, and here). You can guarantee that this will be all over the blogosphere for the next few days. What are your thoughts? What lengths have you gone to?

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007

4 Comments

  1. I think it is getting a tad bit too extreme with collectng DNA…and I am only 13 yrs. old!! this is becoming way too out of hand…

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