Anonymity has always been an important component of protecting the privacy of human participants in research and other activities including biobanking. In his January 21, 2013 post to this blog, my colleague Zubin Master asked the question “could it be possible to identify people who have participated in biobanking projects?” We did not have to wait very long for an answer. It turns out that the January 18, 2013 issue of Science was already on my desk. In a study in that issue, Melissa Gyrmek and colleagues in a group led by Yaniv Ehlich describe how they used a published genetic sequence as well as accompanying metadata and freely accessible genealogy websites to identify the sequence’s owner. This was big enough news to merit a news article and a policy forum examining the ethical implications all in one issue.
A previous study (Science, September 5, 2008 p1278) had allowed donor identification from a blood sample through analysis of single nucleotide polymorphisms by sequencing a blood sample. This new study is the first to use simply a published sequence.
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