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UK scraps nationality DNA-testing

The UK’s immigration agency has abandoned a program to develop DNA and isotope testing to assess the nationality of asylum seekers.

Jun 20, 2011
Tia Ghose

Perfomers celebrate Refugee Week, LondonGARRYKNIGHT VIA FLICKR

The UK’s immigration agency has canceled a widely derided program to use DNA to verify the nationality claims of asylum seekers. The Human Provenance Pilot Project aimed to determine if asylum seekers allegedly fleeing persecution in war-torn Somalia, for instance, were actually citizens of neighboring African countries using the nearby unrest as an excuse to enter the United Kingdom.

Scientists called the program “horrifying,” “naïve,” and “flawed” when its existence was first revealed in 2009. DNA can reveal ancestry, but not nationality, because “genes don’t respect national borders,” David Balding, a population geneticist at Imperial College London, told ScienceInsider. The agency also hoped isotope testing could prove nationality claims, by matching chemical ratios in an asylum seeker’s hair or nails with those found in certain countries. But experts said isotope ratios in those tissues would reflect, at most, the past year of a person’s life.

The failed program, which reportedly cost £190,000 (about US$300,000), was canceled in March, and there are no plans to evaluate data collected for the effort, an agency spokesman told ScienceInsider.

 

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