Researchers at the University of Florida (USA) have found high-quality human DNA in environmental samples, which could pave the way for identifying mutations associated with diseases or determining the genetic ancestry of populations, reported Monday in the journal Nature. has been published. Ecology and Development.
The article states that human DNA is almost everywhere, on the beach, in rivers, oceans and even in the air, which is a boon for science.
Ubiquity is a scientific advantage, but also an ethical dilemma, say researchers at the aforementioned university, who have been able to sequence DNA this widespread.
David Duffy, a genome expert leading the project, said ethically treated environmental DNA samples could benefit fields ranging from medicine and environmental science to archeology and forensics.
As examples, the researchers cited the possibility of tracking cancer mutations in sewage or unearthing undiscovered archaeological sites by searching for hidden human DNA.
In addition, forensic police would be able to identify suspects in a crime based on DNA floating in the air at the crime scene, the article said.
However, experts warn of the importance of managing this information carefully, as one must deal with the ethical issues inherent in the accidental or intentional extraction of human genetic data, not from blood samples, but from a spoonful of sand, a bottle of water or One to one person’s breath.
“We have been continually surprised over the course of this project by the amount of human DNA and the quality of that DNA,” Duffy said in the post.
“In most cases, the quality is roughly equivalent if you sample from an individual,” he said.
The article stresses that the study was done with the approval of a special board of the university to guarantee that ethical guidelines were followed during the investigation.
Duffy’s team has successfully used environmental DNA to study endangered sea turtles and the viral cancer to which they are susceptible.
They have extracted useful DNA from turtle tracks in the sand, which has greatly accelerated their research program.
The experts knew that human DNA would end up in their turtle samples and probably in many other places they searched.
The team found quality human DNA in the sea and rivers around the laboratory where they conducted the study, both near the city and away from human habitation.
Duffy highlighted the need for lawmakers and the scientific community to take the issues of consent and privacy seriously and balance them against the potential benefits of studying this DNA.