Monday, 15 February 2021

Investigative genetic genealogy: current methods, knowledge and practice


I spent much of August and September last year collaborating on a big invited review paper on investigative genetic genealogy. I am very pleased to say that the paper successfully went through peer review and has now been published in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. The paper is free to read and you can access it via this link.

I worked on the paper with Chris Phillips from the Institute of Forensic Sciences at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain and Daniel Kling and Andreas Tillmar who work together at the National Board of Forensic Medicine in Link√∂ping, Sweden. Daniel also has an affiliation with the Department of Forensic Sciences at Oslo University Hospital in Norway. We very fortunate that Oslo University very kindly provided the funding to pay for the paper to be made available open access. It was a pleasure to collaborate with these researchers. We all had complementary knowledge and skills and we have produced a very comprehensive review of investigative genetic genealogy which also highlights areas where future research and validation are needed. The paper is written for an audience of forensic geneticists and is somewhat technical in places but I think much of it will also be of general interest to genetic genealogists.

2020 was a very productive year for me in terms of scientific publications. I collaborated in 2019 with my genetic genealogy friends John Cleary, Maurice Gleeson, Donna Rutherford and Michelle Leonard on a landmark study in collaboration with the forensic science company Eurofins which helped to validate the genealogical methodology used for investigative genetic genealogy. This paper was published in Forensic Science International: Genetics in the May 2020 issue. The cluster-based methods we used for this study are equally valid for family history research. The study was cited in a publication by the UK's Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group which looked at the potential use of genetic genealogy techniques to assist with solving crimes in the UK.

I also collaborated last year with Gabrielle Samuel from Kings College London on two studies looking at the views of UK stakeholders about investigative genetic genealogy. We found that, although there was considerable support for its use, there were also many ethical concerns raised. While all participants stressed the need for appropriate consent there was less agreement on what the consent process should look like and we concluded that individual consent is not in any case a panacea and that there needs to be societal consent. 

The first of our two papers "The impact of investigative genetic genealogy: perceptions of UK professional and public stakeholders" was published in the September 2020 issue of Forensic Science International: Genetics.

The second paper "Problematising consent: searching genetic genealogy databases for law enforcement purposes" was published online in New Genetics and Society in November 2020.

The above three papers are not available open access. If you would like a copy and don't have institutional access please feel free to write to me.

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