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AN ATTEMPT to ID Tulsa Race Massacre Victims Raises Privacy Issues

But that is far from the very first time family genetic material has been used to place names to unidentified remains. Scientists all over the world purchased DNA to recognize missing persons and victims of war, genocide, and natural disasters. The International Commission on Missing Persons, or ICMP, an intergovernmental organization located in HOLLAND, has conducted several DNA profiling efforts, including in the Western Balkans, to recognize Muslim men and boys killed in the 1995 Srebrenica genocide through the Bosnian War. In such cases, scientists typically invite close family of the missing to supply blood samples; they create DNA profiles from the samples, to be in comparison to those obtained from remains.

The organizations testing method targets a kind of DNA variation called short tandem repeats, or STRs. In comparison, consumer tests analyze peoples genetic code by considering single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, single-letter changes in DNA sequences that produce people unique. STRs are of help in determining closer relationships, whereas SNPs tend to be more stable genetic markers which you can use to determine more distant relationships.

Theres another important distinction between your two approaches, says Kieren Hill, DNA laboratory manager for ICMP: The difference using what we do is our data is stored on our very own servers. The organizations database is private and can’t be accessed for legal reasons enforcement. In comparison, GEDmatch can be an online software application which you can use by anyone, including police agencies investigating certain violent crimes.

Thats the reason behind Millers privacy concerns. Miller says adding more Black profiles to the database will generate more opportunities for police to research Black peoplefor example, if police utilize the GEDmatch profiles for connecting the relatives to DNA bought at modern crime scenes. Its not only yourself that youre putting at an increased risk. Its your parents, your cousins, your kids, your unborn descendants, all of your family tree, he says.

Even for those who haven’t committed a crime, you can find risks to uploading genetic data to a public website. Crime scene DNA samples aren’t necessarily from perpetratorsthey could possibly be left by innocent bystanders. Or perhaps a person can be a sufficiently close match to obtain swept into a study, even if they’re actually just a relative of the one who was involved.

But GEDmatch has its benefits. It includes the profiles greater than 1.3 million people, whereas ICMP has collected over 200,000. The more profiles available, the bigger the chance that researchers can identify the Tulsa victims. Its probably the most powerful tool available, says Hellwig.

Its also more prone to match distant relatives. The Tulsa massacre happened a hundred years ago, and the victims descendants may now be living anywhere. The GEDmatch database is international, also it depends on SNP matching, which works for these looser connections.

The ICMP, in comparison, works on newer events in specific geographic areas; oftentimes, you can find living family who is able to provide samples. For the STR testing the group uses, three reference samples are usually needed from the parent, child, or sibling of a missing person to produce a match. With few first-degree relatives of Tulsa victims still alive, that sort of matching isnt possible.

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