Anyone who studied a little genetics in high school has heard of adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine – the A,T,G and C that make up the DNA code. But those are not the whole story. The rise of epigenetics in the past decade has drawn attention to a fifth nucleotide, […]. And now there’s a sixth. […]

[This] suggests that a new layer of complexity exists between our basic genetic blueprints and the creatures that grow out of them. “This is another mechanism for regulation of gene expression and nuclear structure that no one has had any insight into,” says Heintz, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “The results are discrete and crystalline and clear; there is no uncertainty. I think this finding will electrify the field of epigenetics.”

Genes alone cannot explain the vast differences in complexity among worms, mice, monkeys and humans, all of which have roughly the same amount of genetic material. Scientists have found that these differences arise in part from the dynamic regulation of gene expression rather than the genes themselves. Epigenetics, a relatively young and very hot field in biology, is the study of nongenetic factors that manage this regulation.

Source: EurekAlert, via @azeem

This is why I’ll go to prison (oh the irony) before I allow myself to be on a DNA database.

(EDIT 19 Apr 09: I realised I had more to write and have pulled information out into this post for greater clarity: Reasons not to be on a DNA database.)

There are many, many arguments against genetic databases, and very few reasonable ones for.

If we have genetic databases at all, they should be

  1. run by a transparent organisation, independent of government
  2. only collect information from those convicted of crimes
  3. never collect samples from minors
  4. only used for security and justice
  5. routinely protected with multi-tier anonymity
  6. only permitting named access at the end of a regulated judicial process

How the EU is involved

(Updated: Sunday 19th April 2009 — I forgot to include all the EU bits.. whoops!)

It is in situations like this, where one’s own government is being spineless and settling at an unnecessarily draconian point on the liberty <–> security continuum, that the supra-national EU becomes really rather useful. After a celebrated petition by 2 British men,

the European court of human rights in Strasbourg said that keeping innocent people’s DNA records on a criminal register breached article eight of the Human Rights Convention, covering the right to respect for private and family life.

Guardian, 4 Dec 08

It has been 4 months since that ruling, and the illegal data, which is to say that of people like you who have never been convicted of a crime, still has not been removed.

It is a odd and disappointing that the same EU has insisted that fingerprints be stored on our passports in future, but this is a far less bitter pill to swallow, and with far more moderate side effects.

Even though the Americans are stepping up their database drive, a move towards a biometric state and all its sinister implications is not inevitable. The inevitable is only that which we fail to avoid.

Biometric security and surveillance is essentially an arms race, which raises the stakes for all of us. It erodes our liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of protest, right to privacy, and right to security. The small amount of crime we have does not justify gambling these hard fought for rights.

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