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Scientists unlock DIY DNA

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Scientists in Tel Aviv say they've demonstrated that DNA evidence can easily be faked to match the wrong person - assuming the nefarious framer has access to a biology lab and DNA database.

The boffins fabricated phony DNA using blood and saliva samples to match someone else's profile without any tissue from that person, reports the New York Times. They claim the procedure can be done by "anyone with basic equipment and know-how" and is indistinguishable from the real thing using current forensic procedures.

"Any biology undergraduate could perform this," said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper, published in the journal Genetics. The paper asserts that the possibility of DNA evidence being fudged to finger someone else has been overlooked by law enforcement, which has come to rely on DNA matching as a centerpiece of conviction and exoneration of criminal suspects.

The scientists said they counterfeited DNA samples in two ways. One required a small sample of the scapegoat's DNA, and the other constructed from a DNA database.

For the first technique, the paper's authors took blood from a woman and removed the white blood cells containing DNA in a centrifuge. They then added DNA from a man that had been amplified from a single strand of his hair using a standard technique called whole genome amplification. The scientists then sent the sample to a top American forensic laboratory, which analyzed the sample as belonging to the man without detecting genetic shenanigans.

The second technique used samples from a DNA database to match a desired profile. The authors simply mixed and matched DNA snippets from their database to fabricate a phony profile. According to the NYT, the scientists claim a person only needs a mere 425 DNA samples to mimic a profile of any person they want.

Of course, the average criminal looking to frame someone unlucky sod would have a far easier time just leaving bits of the person's hair or blood around rather than bother with this DNA business. The research, though, could be a boon to conspiracy theorists everywhere and at least worth another spin-off for the CSI franchise.

Nevertheless, Frumkin is also rather conveniently the founder of a company called Nucleix, which has developed a test to detect whether DNA samples are real or faked - by the very technique Frumkin's team has demonstrated. They hope to sell the test to forensic labs - which in all likelihood would be needed as part of any fake DNA conspiracy in the first place. ®

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