Bio-Hacker's Liquid Spray Can Erase Your DNA
"Don't be tracked, analyzed, or cloned."
A new liquid spray can erase anyone's genetic trace. Brooklyn artist and bio-hacker Heather Dewey-Hagborg created this product, which consists of a cleaning agent and a mixture of foreign genes, in order to prevent discrimination based on genetic conditions.
Dewey-Hagborg is a self-proclaimed "bio-hacker," a group of amateur scientists who perform biological experiments without the use of a standard lab. She worked out of Genspace, a community biology lab in Brooklyn, New York. Bio-hackers have received attention for performing extremely advanced experiments; last year, a team created a glow-in-the-dark plant by splicing the plant's genetic material with that of bioluminescent bacteria. Another bio-hacker is working towards creating a plant species that could survive extremely high doses of radiation that could possibly contribute to our colonization of another planet.
When Dewey-Hagborg began her own bio-hacker project, she was able to replicate the faces of complete strangers by examining pieces of gum or cigarette butts that she picked up off of the sidewalk. Although these replicas were not identical, they had what she called "a family resemblance." Shocked by the amount of information that she could learn from a small amount of trace DNA, she was inspired to create the Erase spray. She imagines that people who suffer from genetic conditions will buy this product in order to spray it around their workplace.
"I became really fascinated with this idea of genetic privacy... When anyone anywhere can do this kind of work and look at your DNA, this becomes a necessary part of life."
Multiple studies have indicated that we should, in fact, worry about our genetic privacy. In 2013, a genetics lab at MIT identified individuals who had been anonymous DNA donors by cross-referencing their genetic profiles with information from genealogy databases that is available to the public. In 2009, Israeli scientists published research asserting that modern technology not only allows almost anyone to sequence a person's DNA and discover all kinds of personal information, but also allows for the average biology major Joe to produce DNA: "It turns out that standard molecular biology techniques... enable anyone with basic equipment and know-how to produce practically unlimited amounts of in vitro synthesized (artificial) DNA with any desired genetic profile." Considering our legal system's dependence on DNA evidence, this has a frightening amount of potential for framing suspects of crimes such as rape and murder.
In 2006, a master's candidate at the Centre for Forensic Science in the University of Western Australia demonstrated that evidence at crime scenes could be manipulated by spraying it with foreign DNA. While this study reinforces the notion that individuals should be concerned about issues of genetic privacy, it also reminds us that this new liquid spray could easily be abused. Dewey-Hagborg's intentions seem to be benevolent, but her invention could allow criminals to erase their trace DNA from crime scenes, which would be just as damaging to our legal system as DNA manipulation.