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Minister pledges no complete DNA database

Population spared fingerprinting

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The Home Office minister responsible for science has said the National DNA Database will never be extended to cover the whole population.

Andy Burnham, visibly relieved by the ID card compromise, made the pledge at a meeting of top academics working in forensics.

He said he didn't think there was a debate to be had on a complete DNA repository.

With the expansion of the world's largest law enforcement DNA database to cover everyone arrested for an imprisonable offence, he may be right - another presentation at the event waxed lyrical about the Forensic Science Service's ability to use the database in its current form to gain intelligence about people who aren't even on it.

DNA samples from crime scenes that have no direct matches are now also compared to find relatives. Anyone with a wrong'un in the family can be traced by the technique.

It's not just evidence for prosecutions now, DNA is intelligence for ongoing investigations.

Burnham, who conceded bringing the bantam weight expertise of an 'O' level in biology to his role, dropped by to pay lip service to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The funding body announced £4m worth of new grants for forensics research.

Scientists at the Crime Prevention and Detection Technologies event noted that the Home Office benefits heavily from, but makes little to no investment in, frontline research. The civil servant Burnham had in tow said it was better to leave it to the independent funding bodies.

The academics showcased some undeniably impressive technologies, including a “lab on a chip”, potentially able to do instant DNA profiling at crime scenes.

Dr Sue Jickells, a fingerprint expert from King's College London, presented her work on recovering prints' chemical composition. Cutting edge techniques can be used to not only identify the pattern's owner, but tell whether the person smoked and what drugs they take.

Speaking after the talk, Dr Jickells lamented the inevitability of the technology being taken up by medical insurance assessors. ®

Bootnote

The intellectual property such research generates for King's will no doubt come in handy. They recently joined the club of universities making brutal cuts to chemistry departments.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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