Ross: You’re getting your DNA all over the place

May 16, 2023, 7:55 AM | Updated: 8:47 am


A sequencing chromatograph showing a DNA sequence and a sample of DNA from the human genome mapping project (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

(Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)

The scientific journal Nature reports a fascinating discovery: we are all shedding enormous amounts of readable human DNA into the environment.

This was discovered by researcher David Duffy at the University of Florida, who used the latest gene-detection technology to track diseases affecting sea turtles.

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We all love sea turtles! We all want to protect them!

But in every sample, Duffy was also finding a lot of non-turtle DNA. It was, in fact, human DNA. He found so much of it while researching his turtles that he wanted to find out where it was coming from, and started taking samples from streams in populated areas and even sampled the air of occupied buildings.


Readable human DNA everywhere! We know it’s in the sewage system, where it’s already being used as an early warning system for new germs, but he was also finding it in freshwater streams, in footprints at the beach, and even in the air.

He calls it the Human Genetic Bycatch, and it turns out it’s easy to detect. There is a device called a nanopore sequencer which costs about $1,000 and plugs into a laptop – that can analyze tiny DNA samples and get enough information to reveal not only genetic ancestry but diseases caused by mutations. 

Duffy found risk indicators for diabetes, heart disease, eye disease, and even one sample showing a potentially fatal neurological disease.

There wasn’t enough information to match any of those maladies to a particular individual. But even if you could, does a doctor call up someone out of the blue and say, ‘We sampled your footprint at the beach, and we think you may have a fatal disease?’

Law enforcement, of course, is very interested in this, and I’m sure it will be used only for good and noble purposes, but it is yet another reminder that nothing is private anymore. Because now, we find out that our bodies are continuously dropping microscopic genetic breadcrumbs everywhere we go. 

Our only defense is to behave at all times and pray you don’t have any evil twins.

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Ross: You’re getting your DNA all over the place