Forensic genetics after Golden State Killer

It’s been a year and a half since the Golden State Killer was arrested. That was a big day in the genetics community, as genealogy was leveraged for forensics in a big way. One of the people who I began to have discussions with regarding this development was my friend David Mittelman. Since then David has started his own forensic genetics company, Othram.

He moves fast!

But there’s a major issue with any project moving forward into this space: the strange ethical grayland of genomic databases. A lot of the breakthroughs are coming through GED Match, a site that feels like it stepped out of the late 1990s, with both the innocence and design sense of that period. You’ve probably read about the fire which the proprietors of GED Match have come under due to confusions about terms of use. Curtis Rogers, a co-founder of GED Match, thinks it’s a “distraction.” Certainly, it has been for him.

GED Match is great, and the founders tried to do great things with the best of aims. But the world comes at you fast.

As someone who has put their own genotype into the public domain, I’m not super worried about privacy. Yaniv Erlich of MyHeritage was one of those aggressively asserting that he would be happy for people to solve violent crime with his genotype when the Golden State Killer was caught. Many of us feel that way, though not all of us.

To get at the forensic and criminal justice aspect of genomics, and around some of the ethical hurdles of prior databases, David’s company has created a new database, DNA Solves. Since it was designed and coded this year it definitely feels 2019. I uploaded some of my raw genotype data and it was very easy and quick. The FAQ is explicit in what the aim here is. Othram is a forensic genetics firm that gains from public buy-in, but the current options are not optimal. Everyone is worried that GED Match will get shut down. There need to be alternatives out there.

This database is aimed only at helping law enforcement. There’s no public search. And, David told me they’re only going to return matches, not the whole genotype. This is basically a tool that allows people to want to get involved to remain involved.

If you are as open about your genes as I am, I’d recommend checking it out.

(in the near future they will begin providing “reports” to people who volunteer to upload to get the database bigger)

Note: Dante is telling me that my sample is being sequenced. I will be posting my whole genome online soon (I promised about a decade ago that I’d do this if I got WGS).