U.K. Abandons Study of Nationality Testing Using DNA and Isotopes

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John Travis
2011-06-17 11:00
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The U.K. Border Agency (UKBA) has completely abandoned its widely scorned investigation into DNA and isotope testing of human tissues as a means to verify the nationality claims of asylum seekers. The Times broke the news today, labeling the so-called Human Provenance Pilot Project an "expensive flop" (subs. required for story). UKBA reportedly spent £ 190,000 on the effort.

ScienceInsider first detailed the scientific criticisms of the little-known project in 2009. For example, geneticists pointed out that DNA testing might reveal a person's ancestry, but could never prove his or her nationality. UKBA quickly suspended the pilot project, but about a month later said that it would resume taking tissue samples from asylum seekers on a voluntary basis in order to test the usefulness of DNA testing and isotope analysis. UKBA also said that during the pilot project, any collected data would not be used in asylum decisions.

The agency now says the pilot project ended in March, and it doesn't anticipate publishing the collected data or any evaluation of the effort. "The UK Border Agency does not plan to take forward DNA/Isotope testing for country of origin identification purposes, consequently a decision was taken to suspend the internal review," according to a statement issued by a UKBA spokesperson.

Scientists say they aren't surprised to see the project killed. "Given that most population geneticists would have identified the problems very quickly, it is surprising that it ever got off the ground," Mark Thomas, a geneticist at University College London, told The Times.

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