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DNA's role in political espionage and beyond

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blue double helix models on background

blue double helix models on background  (from2015)

One of the more fascinating stories to come out of the recent US-North Korea summit was the fact that Kim Jong Un brought his own toilet with him to Singapore.

According to multiple accounts, he did this so no one would get access to his stools and test them for DNA to learn about his health. This may sound crazy, but modern DNA testing technology is quite robust. In fact, Kim's DNA could've been pulled from silverware, straws, cups, or really anything else he touched, perhaps making the toilet unnecessary.

When researchers were deconstructing our DNA, the goal was to understand our human makeup as well as detect and treat disease, a huge benefit for mankind. Most of us, especially fans of TV shows like NCIS and Bones, are familiar with DNA being used to solve crimes. But as we have learned, technology intended for good is often used for evil, too.

Imagine if it could be used against a political leader to oust them from office, or give opponents ammunition they need to attack them for political gain. At a basic level, this could also be damaging to political leaders' psyches; it's hard not to leave any DNA anywhere.

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But it's not just politicians. Bloomberg did a good piece on consumer DNA testing kits and the potential for invasions of privacy, a discussion we saw following revelations that DNA from one of these services helped authorities track down the Golden State Killer. Bloomberg interviewed Debbie Kennett, a UK genealogist, who said there is "no control over genealogists who are doing this type of search."

This is an area that needs to be watched closely. I suspect what Kim Jong Un is doing with his toilet habits may soon be copied by despots and dictators like him, and appeal to traditional leaders with heavy opposition to their leadership. Genetic testing sites have very little oversight beyond the FDA, but I would not be surprised if they end up under some type of other governmental regulation in the future.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.

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