Ethical considerations of SNP genotyping

The information deduced from a DNA profile has been an important issue of discussion in the last two decades, and the fact that the CODIS STR loci do not reveal anything about race, intelligence, physical characteristics or possible genetic disorders of an individual has been important for the appliance to ethical criteria imposed on forensic DNA investigations in some countries (Koops and Schellekens, 2006). With the introduction of SNP typing in forensic genetics, these criteria may be challenged, because SNPs can reveal information that may be considered to be sensitive or private. For example, the ethnic origin of a person can be determined with a high degree of certainty by analysing AIMs or Y chromosome SNPs (Frudakis et al., 2003b; Jobling and Tyler-Smith, 2003; Phillips et al., 2006). This information could be very important for the police investigation, but for some people it may be problematic if the DNA profile reveals that a person has different ancestors than the person presumed, and the public may express concern that 'ethnic SNPs' are used to criticize a certain population in the community. On the other hand, if the typing of AIMs is prohibited by law, it will not be possible to type for certain human phenotypes (e.g. skin colour), because such traits are used to distinguish between populations and an important tool for law enforcement may be lost.

The advantages of using SNP markers for routine caseworks are so large that there is no doubt that SNP typing will be employed by forensic laboratories in the future. Whether typing of SNPs in coding regions and forensic DNA phe-notyping should be permitted is an issue that needs to be addressed by the public and the forensic genetic community, and most likely it has to be discussed continuously in the years to come as more and more genetic markers are discovered and associated with distinct phenotypes.

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