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Inadvertent human genomic bycatch and intentional capture raise beneficial  applications and ethical concerns with environmental DNA

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-07-06, 10:55 authored by Liam WhitmoreLiam Whitmore, Mark McCauley, Jessica A. Farrell, Maximilian R. Stammnitz, Samantha A. Koda, Narges Mashkour, Victoria Summers, Todd Osborne, Jenny Whilde, David J Duffy

The feld of environmental DNA (eDNA) is advancing rapidly, yet human  eDNA applications remain underutilized and underconsidered. Broader  adoption of eDNA analysis will produce many well-recognized benefts  for pathogen surveillance, biodiversity monitoring, endangered and  invasive species detection, and population genetics. Here we show that  deep-sequencing-based eDNA approaches capture genomic information  from humans (Homo sapiens) just as readily as that from the intended  target species. We term this phenomenon human genetic bycatch (HGB).  Additionally, high-quality human eDNA could be intentionally recovered  from environmental substrates (water, sand and air), holding promise for  benefcial medical, forensic and environmental applications. However,  this also raises ethical dilemmas, from consent, privacy and surveillance  to data ownership, requiring further consideration and potentially novel  regulation. We present evidence that human eDNA is readily detectable from  ‘wildlife’ environmental samples as human genetic bycatch, demonstrate  that identifable human DNA can be intentionally recovered from  human-focused environmental sampling and discuss the translational and  ethical implications of such fndings. 

Funding

Strengthening International Research Capacity in Wales

European Commission

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History

Publication

nature ecology & evolution 7, pp. 873–888

Publisher

Springer Nature

Other Funding information

National Save the Sea Turtle Foundation under project name Fibropapillomatosis Training and Research Initiative (D.J.D.), a Welsh Government Sêr Cymru II and the European Union Horizon 2020 research Gumbo Limbo Nature Center

Department or School

  • Biological Sciences

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