Slelling, Genetic Avatars, and Mail Order Chewing Gum Impregnated with your DNA

In David Zindell’s space opera Neverness, the term “slel” is introduced to describe the misappropriation of someone else’s DNA. In a review of Zindell’s book, Orson Scott Card gives us the following definition:

Slel: To take DNA from someone against his will, to create avatars of him, or perhaps children.

Last week Hsien documented the recent efforts of UK police to make slelling a standard practice.

I’ve got two riffs on slelling for you: (1) genetic avatars and (2) DNA bubble gum.

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Boy Identifies Formerly Anonymous Sperm Donor Father

A 15-year old boy conceived through anonymous sperm donation has tracked down his biological father using several morsels of information supplied by his mother, information about his own Y chromosome supplied by a dna test he ordered online, and a geneological database. The details are supplied by New Scientist:

The boy paid $289 for the service. His genetic father had never supplied his DNA to the site, but all that was needed was for someone in the same paternal line to be on file. After nine months of waiting and having agreed to have his contact details available to other clients, the boy was contacted by two men with Y chromosomes closely matching his own. The two did not know each other, but the similarity between their Y chromosomes suggested there was a 50 per cent chance that all three had the same father, grandfather or great-grandfather.

Importantly, the men both had the same last name, albeit with different spellings. This was the vital clue the boy needed to start his search in earnest. Though his donor had been anonymous, his mother had been told the man’s date and place of birth and his college degree. Using another online service,, he purchased the names of everyone that had been born in the same place on the same day. Only one man had the surname he was looking for, and within 10 days he had made contact.

The privacy implications for other anonymous sperm donors is significant. Equally astonishing is the implication of this 15 year old boy: young persons of the Net-Generation, so called N-geners, are superpower users of technology. The ability of this kid to piece together a mishmash of technologies and services on the web for his purposes is truly remarkable.

Growing_up_digitalDon Tapscott. Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.
Genetic_secretsMark Rothstein. Genetic Secrets : Protecting Privacy and Confidentiality in the Genetic Era. Yale UP 1999.

Freakonomics: Dog Doo DNA

The two authors that freakishly took the dismal science to the top of the bestseller lists with Freakonomics turn their attention this week to dog doo and DNA:

Twenty-five hundred tons. That’s how much manure was produced every day by the 200,000 horses that moved people and goods around New York City in the late 19th century…Like so many seemingly overwhelming problems, this one was resolved, quite painlessly, by technology. The electric streetcar and then the automobile led to the disappearance of the horses, and with them went their dung.

Most of the animal dung produced in today’s New York comes from our dogs…With horses, the solution was simply to eliminate them.  Might there be away to get rid of dog poop without getting rid of the dogs?  Here’s an idea: DNA sampling…

The authors put some numbers to an idea which has been kicked around this past year by several city officials in Europe.  They estimate it would cost NYC about $30 million to get into the dog doo DNA business.  Excellent read.

STEPHEN J. DUBNER and STEVEN D. LEVITT. "Dog-Waste Management: The DNA of Dog Dirt" New York Time Magazine. October 2, 2005.


Follow-Up: Conviction using DNA Spit Kit

"The warden had to wait with salvia dripping from
his glasses and face for around four minutes until a team leader from
NCP, arrived with a [DNA] ’spit kit’.

This past year in the UK, traffic wardens and train drivers have been armed with DNA spit kits in reaction to the frequency with which these employees get spat upon by disgruntled members of the public.  The first conviction was handed down this week in Manchester where a DNA spit kit was used to gather evidence (dripping off the glasses of a traffic warden described above).

Proposal for Genetic Pawprinting in Vienna

Austrian lawmaker district counselor Manfred Juraczka wants to build a DNA database to fight a growing dog doo menace on the streets of Vienna.  The system would be similar to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) in the U.S., except this one is for canines.