Direct-to-consumer DNA testing databases will soon identify most Americans, study suggests

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One day, researchers will be able to identify most Americans by reviewing demographic data alongside genetic information from direct-to-consumer DNA testing companies — even if an individual has never undergone testing, according to a study published in Science.

A team of researchers from Columbia University in New York City and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel analyzed genomic data from nearly 1.3 million customers who used MyHeritage, a direct-to-consumer DNA testing service. They then attempted to use this information to find familial matches from second, third or fourth cousins who had also taken a MyHeritage test.

The researchers found they could identify roughly 60 percent of the customers of European descent by reviewing DNA samples alongside demographic data found in public records. In the near future, this technique could be used to identify almost any American of European descent, the researchers suggested.

They added that the technique could one day be used to identify people of various ethnic backgrounds. Based on the study results, only 2 percent of Americans would need to undergo DNA testing for almost the entire population's genetic information to be represented in the database, according to Bloomberg.

"We are getting very soon to the point that everyone will be potentially identifiable using this technique,’" study author Yaniv Erlich, PhD, an assistant professor at Columbia and the chief science officer at MyHeritage, told Bloomberg.

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