Microbiome Fingerprints | The Scientist Magazine(R)

May 17, 2015

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/42950/title/Microbiome-Fingerprints/

QT:{{”

As microbiome signatures mature, law enforcement or intelligence agents could theoretically track people by looking for traces of them left in the microbes they shed. Mark Gerstein, who studies biomedical informatics at Yale University and was not involved in the new study, suggested, for instance, that one could imagine tracking a terrorist’s movements through caves using their microbiome signature.

Huttenhower and his colleagues were identifying individuals out of pools of just hundreds of project participants, however. It is currently unclear how well the algorithm will perform when applied to the general population, though the researchers estimate that their code could likely pick someone out from a group of 500 to 1,000. “I would expect that number to get bigger in the future as we get more data and better data and better coding strategies,” Huttenhower said.

But the work raises privacy concerns similar to those faced by scientists gather human genomic data. Microbiome researchers are already wary of the human genomic DNA that gets caught up in microbiome sequences, but it increasingly appears that the microbiome sequences themselves are quite personal.

In the genomics field, researchers have increasingly limited access to databases containing human genomic sequencing data. Researchers must apply to use these data. “People might increasingly want to put the microbiome data under the same type of protection that they put normal genomic variants under,” said Gerstein. “Your microbiome is associated with various disease risks and proclivities for X and Y. I don’t think it’s a completely neutral identification. It potentially says things about you.”

“}}