It’s been over a century since the police started using fingerprint evidence to solve crimes. As a work around, criminals simply started wearing gloves or wiping down whatever they touched at a crime scene.
DNA is much more pervasive. A hair at a crime scene or dead skin under a victim’s fingernails could be matched to a criminal with DNA analysis, and there was nothing the bad guys could do about it, until now.
For less than $180, a criminal or any type of ne’er-do-well could alter his DNA ‘fingerprint’ and possibly elude capture.
The Daily Mail reports that by using CRISPR kits available for purchase, malcontents could change their DNA enough to through off the scent of law enforcement. CRISPR, which stands for ‘Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats’, is a gene editing process that uses RNA sequences to activate or deactivate gene traits in DNA.
Those suffering from sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy often use CRISPR kits to help fight or alleviate symptoms of their disease. In 2017, a former NASA biochemist Josiah Zayner, live-streamed a demonstration of the kits by injecting himself with a sequenced batch designed to improve muscle mass.
The Daily Mail reports that “Professor George Church, of Harvard University, who pioneered the use of the Crispr technique, said [CRISPR] could also be used by criminals to disappear from forensic databases or evade detection.”
When asked by the Mail if Crispr could alter DNA to the extent it would effectively mask a culprit, Church replied, “We could do that today, easily. A lot of it is done by blood and even if you just get a stem cell transplant you have a new identity.”
“Crispr actually would be easier than a stem cell transplant because (a transplant) would have to be done sterilely and you would need to irradiate yourself to get rid of the old ones.”
While the new DNA sequence eventually does take over the genome, Dr Alexander Gray, of the Leverhulme Research Centre at the University of Dundee, warns that the promising results of tests on mice do not necessarily mean that humans would enjoy the same result.
“You can manipulate the genome but to do it on the scale where it would have a forensic effect would be tricky,” Gray is quoted as saying.
“If you were in the forensic database and you changed your DNA it would be possible to avoid detection, but I think it would be extremely difficult to achieve,” he added.
Law enforcement officials are probably hoping Dr. Gray is right.