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Emerging Forensics Field May Hit Legal, Ethical Obstacles

Science  18 Feb 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6019, pp. 840
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6019.840

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Summary

A year after a 16-year-old girl was brutally raped and murdered in the Netherlands in 1999, forensic geneticist Peter de Knijff set out to determine the geographic ancestry of the murderer from DNA in his semen. That was, he later admitted, "completely illegal" under Dutch law, which at the time allowed using DNA for traditional DNA identification but not for determining race, looks, or disease risk. De Knijff's dilemma could arise any day in many countries. In the wake of the murder—still unsolved today—the Dutch parliament adopted a law in 2003 regulating forensic DNA phenotyping, the use of DNA samples to predict a suspect's ancestry or physical characteristics (see main text). But the Netherlands is still the only country to have done so. This story and the one it accompanies are part of a collection this month reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the publication of the human genome, which are gathered here.