back to article 'UK DNA database by stealth' proposed in £100m NHS project

Prime Minister David Cameron is to announce plans for the NHS to create a massive database of patients' DNA, which experts have advised could lead to massive health benefits and advances in medical technology. However the creation of such a database has obvious and far reaching privacy implications. In an attempt to address such …

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TRT
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Holmes

Curious...

I wonder how many human chimera there are?

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Boffin

Re: Curious...

"I wonder how many human chimera there are?"

At least some of the genes defining the wall of the human womb are the same as those of certain diseases.

The diseases pre-date humans by millions of years.

The answered would be everyone

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Meh

For the first few years all will be well. New Government new legislation introduced, DNA data base given to private firm for storage. Police demand access to data base as a matter of course. Data no longer anonymised 'for the general good'. Private firm enters agreement with Government agencies to share data with all agencies including local authorities. New legislation introduced to sell data to any firm that lodges a request to see it.

IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE?

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TRT
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Re: Curious...

@John Smith 19,

Do you know what a chimera is?

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Re: Curious...

Course we do!

It was that thing Dick Van Dyke sung about in Mary Poppins.

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Happy

Re: Curious...

"Do you know what a chimera is?"

Well I'm familiar with the usual English language description.

The genetic description of the term is different. However using that one then the fact that all humans carry Mitochondria, which have a separate DNA inheritance means and DNA transfer mechanism (only through the female line) means that yes we are all chimera by the genetic definition, not the common English usage.

Now I wonder who else voted me down and if they understood the difference or played follow the leader?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: chimeras

That might be one of the meanings of the term, but I think what we're interested in here is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimera_%28genetics%29#Human_chimeras

I followed the links and found a reference to something like a few percent of twins, and presumably a tiny proportion of non-twins. Of course, identical twins represent another (the opposite) problem for identifying people by their DNA.

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Headmaster

Re: Curious...

Well if all organisms are chimeras under your understanding of the term, then it's not a very useful term, is it?

Of the various biological usages of the term 'chimera', one refers to animals where tissue i.e. cells, have different genetic origins. This can occur as a result of the fusion of two zygotes to form a single embryo, or the fusion of two embryos at a fairly early stage of differentiation, or fusion of a zygote with an embryo. It can also occur in a parasitic form in adults, as in the case of the angler fish.

The other use is one where DNA from two organisms has been spliced together.

The relevance to this article is that a DNA sequence obtained from, say, a cheek swab could be completely different to a DNA sequence obtained from a blood sample from the same individual, which could be different again to the sequence passed on to a child, or obtainable from a sperm sample. It's rare, but until fairly recently there was no idea that this happened, and as yet there are no accepted statistics to show the frequency of this state in the population as a whole. The issue has cropped up in various criminal and civil cases that have passed through the courts.

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Alert

Health insurance

They're currently allowed to set premiums based on your medical history, aren't they? What happens when your records show you have genes associated with a higher risk of cancer/stroke/diabetes/whatever? Will you have the right to withhold that information?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Health insurance

Withhold that info = high premium?

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TRT
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Re: Health insurance

Meh. If they can't set the insurance premiums for females differently to males... and most males are missing a huge chunk of DNA making them more prone to genetic disease anyway...

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Meh

Re: Health insurance

I think that's the grim reality hidden beneath this message:

Now that costs have supposedly plummeted, the market is ripe to be exploited by private companies hoping to cash in by using these rich datasets to create "personalised medicines and individualised treatments".

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Re: Health insurance

Sounds like an excellent reason to make sure the NHS continues then. Just because private health companies want cash doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea for them to have it.

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Boffin

Missing DNA

> most males are missing a huge chunk of DNA making them more prone to genetic disease anyway...

Erm... no, I don't think so. A male inherits one X chromosome from his mother and a (smaller) Y chromosome from his father. If anything, it's females who are missing a chunk of DNA, since they miss out on Dad's Y chromosome, and get an X from their paternal grandmother.

The gender-related gene complexes for female characteristics may not be *expressed* in the male phenotype, but they're still there, otherwise males wouldn't be able to father daughters.

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FAIL

Re: Missing DNA

Poster TRT above was in fact correct in his/her statement that:

> most males are missing a huge chunk of DNA making them more prone to genetic disease anyway...

Even though we inherit two copies of almost every gene (one from father and one from mother, except in specialized cases), almost always a single properly-functioning copy is enough for normal development and life. Thus, even if one of your gene copies is defective, the other copy is likely OK and acts as a backup, providing enough normal function to avoid having fly antennae (or other movie-style "mutations").

The X and Y chromosomes are one of the special cases, with females having the usual two copies of the chromosome, one from father and one from mother (X and X), but males having only one copy of the X and in place of the other copy a smaller chromosome called Y. Although Y does contain some dozens of male-specific genes, it is missing something like 90% of the genes on the X (many, many more than the few male-specific genes gained on the Y). Thus, for the hundreds of genes on the bulk of the X chromosome without corresponding "backup" copies on the Y, any gene defect will become evident, rather than being masked by the proper function of a "backup" copy. Classic not-extremely-fatal examples of this include the famous hemophilia gene passed to many of Queen Victoria's descendents, and most color blindness. Fatal examples include X-linked SCID, a severe immunodeficiency caused by a single defective gene for an immune-system receptor building block.

Bottom line: human males are missing "backup" copies of about 3.4% of their genes because of having only a single X chromosome instead of the two copies that females have. This is likely to be the underlying reason that human males have average lifespans about 10% shorter than human females, once death due to pregnancy/childbirth complications is prevented.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Missing DNA

Which is why they should give up their seat for us, open doors for us, and be the ones who get out of bed in the morning to make us a cup of tea.

anon for obvious reasons - who knows the awsome web tracking power of the X chromosone.....

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Re: Missing DNA

Ah! So that's why the condition I have is X linked ichthiosis. The more you know.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Missing DNA

Which is why they should give up their seat for us, open doors for us, and be the ones who get out of bed in the morning to make us a cup of tea.

But what if accepting those benefits required you to lose your ability to read a map, find that beer didn't taste good, and resulted in you losing 50% of your common sense, and 100% of your empathy for mechanical things?

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TRT
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Paris Hilton

Re: But what if accepting those benefits required you to lose your ability...

Well, it depends on the relative importance you place on those skills. Of course, at critical moments, the ability to read a map or diagnose an engine's ignition failure may fail in males as well, so the relative importance of these skills will suddenly increase for your female companion who is stranded by the side of the A1M in the depths of the border regions. Coupled with the male's virtually immovable reluctance to ask a passer-by for directions or phone a garage doesn't help - at which point said female companion will berate you loudly and constantly for such failings, as I know from personal experience. It's the social equivalent of being beaten about the head with your own penis. Such an event, were it possible practically as well as figuratively of course, and without detachment / dismemberment, would probably make up for the deficiency in map reading, mechanics, and probably just about anything else.

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Big Brother

Databases

Between internet comms, this and everything else, What is it with UK Governments trying to profile citizens?

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Holmes

Re: Databases

It's in their genes.

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Re: Databases

Because they can.

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Unhappy

Re: Databases

Look up "Sir Humphrey Appleby" and "Thomas Brian Reynolds"

That should tell you everything you need to know.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Databases

aren't these all Nu Labor policies dusted off ?

I thought they were suppsoed to wait fior the 2nd term before rehashing the previous governments policy ideas

anyhoo, scope creep on a DNa database is just scary,

maybe I have seen too many sci-fi films !

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"A number of ways to store this data will be investigated,"

yeah, so far they've looked into USB sticks and portable hard drives. Some scenarios to test the devices include: how long will they go unnoticed on a train seat, how many will fit into the bin at the local park, etc

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Black Helicopters

I wonder how useful this database might be to our enemy in the next world war?

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Unhappy

"I wonder how useful this database might be to our enemy in the next world war?"

None at all. Most government projects cost us peasants money, make our lives irritating in a myriad of new but tiny ways, but fail spectacularly to do what they say they will. On that basis a part-functioning DNA database would be of limited use.

No, the most useful thing to our enemies is the British government and their civil service.

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Devil

GATTACA

Quote: I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the color of your skin. No, we now have discrimination down to a science.

Welcome to the new tomorrow...

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Re: GATTACA

ha, you beat me to it!

it would be funny if it wasn't true

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FAIL

Of course the DNA database is anonymous, we all believe what HMG says is above reproach. Until it's monetised and flogged off to the highest bidders by some cash strapped government... leaving poor Joe Publick mystified why he can't get life insurance or anything else as he / she's got the p53 or BRCA1 gene...

Didn't the BBC touch on this a few years ago with a series the name of which escapes me?

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Anonymous Coward

Anonymous

Anonymous with no way of identifying the individual, except surely DNA itself is a whacking great form of ID?

Though tying up with the individual can't occur until someone takes their DNA to match the database (hmm, Police perhaps).

What they can do aside from medical treatments on individuals, which would have to link your ID, is profile the country and wouln't be hard I guess to work out what DNA is linked to what other DNA, i.e. families. Could be possible to infer a lot from that.

I'm all for the medical benefits though, but suspect that the gov would throw £100m at this as I doubt they'd normally be keen to throw that at the NHS.

Anonymous, because.

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Thumb Down

Re: Anonymous

Too true. It ain't. A DNA database is a damn great directed graph (acyclic? - probably not) with the cross-matches as the links. So given enough identification within the database, any other entry can be identified by the relationships. The police already do this in their own DNA database to identify relatives of existing entrants.

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Big Brother

GATACA

why not just sequence everybody at birth and get rid of people with an IQ of <100 and any genetic defect?

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TRT
Silver badge

Re: GATACA

Because IQ and DNA sequencing are only loosely correlated at best?

Because we all carry on average four genetic defects?

Because genetic anomalies are a key part of evolution by natural selection?

And besides, we can't jettison the dumb-asses of our society, because we need a constant supply of commentard-fodder.

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Headmaster

Re: GATACA

GATTaCA

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Anonymous Coward

Re: GATACA

"Because we all carry on average four genetic defects?"

But we don't all carry the average number of defects. There are those of us with none.

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"genetic anomalies are a key part of evolution by natural selection?"

Humans are now devolving as everybody who should have died at birth are now being kept alive and breeding.

The only way humans are going to improve (smarter/ fitter / more longevity, etc.) is through genetic engineering. What would really help is a huge database identifying all the thick / ill people, the first thing to do (at the most simplistic level) would be to eradicate these genes from our progeny.

If only we had such a data-base? If only we could target and modify any gene?

Oh, wait....

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Facepalm

Re: GATACA

Because the meaning of 100 IQ would change over time as you got rid of the 'defectives' to include 'acceptables' for termination.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: GATACA

IQ is an indicator of how well educated you are or how good your conventional skills like maths and language are. It is not an indicator of intelligence as skills can be improved but often someone's comprehension can't.

Was Einstein a genius at birth or did he improve his knowledge and skills over time?

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TRT
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Headmaster

Re: GATACA

Sorry, got it slightly wrong. The actual quote is "It revealed that a normal healthy person has on average about 400 potentially damaging DNA variations, and two DNA changes known to be associated with disease."

This is the BBC News article from three days ago. Their headline: "We all have hundreds of DNA flaws, UK geneticists say"

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Go

"100 IQ would change over time"

TRUE

But this would just mean that we get smarter faster.

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"400 potentially damaging DNA variations"

OK

First thing to do on Monday, fix the inherent flaws.

Tuesday, give myself super-genes.

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FAIL

Re: GATACA

why not just sequence everybody at birth and get rid of people with an IQ of <100 and any genetic defect?

Where would we get fresh politicians from?

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FAIL

Re: "100 IQ would change over time"

@OrsonX

nice of you to volunteer to be "data-cleansed". You seem to think that you would make the cut, but from the very shaky knowledge you have about genetics and how IQ works, I have serious doubts on that front.

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Re: GATACA

And have Apple lose most of it's fanboi customer base?

Oh hang on a minute ...

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TRT
Silver badge

Re: "Tuesday, give myself super-genes."

I saw some lovely ones in Top Man the other day.

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Big Brother

Re: "genetic anomalies are a key part of evolution by natural selection?"

>>What would really help is a huge database identifying all the thick / ill people, the first thing to do (at the most simplistic level) would be to eradicate these genes from our progeny. <<

A certain leader in the last century (Hr. A. Hitler) had exactly this idea. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebensborn

Similar plans were proposed at a number of different Eugenics conferences during the early 20th century; what's interesting is that this is now banned under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. I wonder if their database (sorry, "data infrastructure") could also be construed to be a breach of this?

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Facepalm

Re: GATACA

"why not just sequence everybody at birth and get rid of people with an IQ of <100 and any genetic defect?"

If you were smart enough, you'd know that an IQ of 100 is supposed to be average intelligence, by definition. If you start bumping off folks with an IQ less than 100, the average intelligence will increase, so the IQ of 100 will correspond to a higher level of intelligence. Eventually, there will be only one person left. The cleverest one.

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@Symon

I wish I could improve your IQ so that your read earlier post before spamming.

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Anonymous Coward

"would really help is a huge database identifying all the thick / ill people"

They have, it's called the Essex Electoral Register

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