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New DNA Database Allows Far Faster Searches for Pathogen Genomes

February 4, 2019 In 2015, scientists discovered a pig in China that would set off a frantic, worldwide search. The pig carried bacteria resistant to colistin, a drug used to cure infections when almost all other drugs have failed. Colistin is an old antibiotic with sometimes severe side effects in humans. Chinese doctors...

You Should Be Worried About Your DNA Privacy

November 1, 2018 FROM NEXTGOV arrow As DNA tests such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA become increasingly prevalent, concerns about genetic privacy are mounting—and with good reason, says the Atlantic writer Sarah Zhang. In the latest Atlantic Argument, Zhang explains how the recent spate of arrests that were made due to DNA databases—the most famous being the...

Cats Are No Match for New York City’s Rats

September 28, 2018 In 2017, Michael H. Parsons finally secured a site to study rats in New York City. You would think that’s easy in Pizza Rat’s native land, but Parsons, a visiting researcher at Fordham University, says the process took “blood, sweat, and tears”: Since rats in New York invariably live on...

Which Company Will Test the DNA of Separated Families?

July 9, 2018 It did not take long for people look to DNA as a solution for reuniting families separated at the border. First, congresswoman Jackie Speier suggested that the DNA-testing company 23andMe help find separated parents and children. 23andMe quickly responded, offering to donate kits. Then on Thursday, the Health and Human...

How a Tiny Website Became the Police's Go-To Genealogy Database

June 3, 2018 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Ever since investigators revealed that a genealogy website led police to arrest a man as California’s notorious Golden State Killer, interest in using genealogy to solve crimes has exploded. DNA from more than 100 crime scenes has been uploaded to the same genealogy site. A second man, linked to a...

The Ease of the Postal Service Makes It a Vector for Violence

March 13, 2018 If the Postal Service did not already exist, if its reach had not grown organically as the United States grew, then the idea of building one from scratch today might seem absurd. How preposterous it is that anyone can scrawl an address on an envelope and expect it to arrive...

The 'Genome Hacker' Who Mapped a 13-Million-Person Family Tree

March 2, 2018 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Yaniv Erlich has been a white-hat hacker and a geneticist at Columbia University, and now he works for a genealogy company. This unusual career trajectory has led, most recently, to a 13-million-person family tree unveiled today in Science. The massive trove of data comes from public profiles on the crowdsourced...

1990s Law Limits CDC's Ability to Research Gun Violence As a Public Health Issue

February 16, 2018 After a deadly shooting, the debate always, it seems, breaks down like this: One side argues for gun control, and the other argues there is no research proving those measures work. There is, in fact, little research into gun violence at all—especially compared to other causes of death in the...

Google Taught an AI That Sorts Cat Photos to Analyze DNA

December 9, 2017 FROM NEXTGOV arrow When Mark DePristo and Ryan Poplin began their work, Google’s artificial intelligence did not know anything about genetics. In fact, it was a neural network created for image recognition—as in the neural network that identifies cats and dogs in photos uploaded to Google. It had a lot to learn. But...

What Happens When You Put 500,000 People's DNA Online

November 7, 2017 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Every big, ambitious project has to start somewhere, and for U.K. Biobank, it was at an office building south of Manchester, where the project convinced its very first volunteer to pee into a cup and donate a tube of blood in 2006. U.K. Biobank would go on to recruit 500,000...