back to article Home Office declines to detail DNA-for-foreigns trial

Home Office experiments with various DNA and isotope tests to try and "prove" an individual's nationality are a bogus use of bogus science, scientists have said. Several scientists, including DNA fingerprinting boffin Alec Jeffreys, have told the Home Office that its trial of mitochondrial DNA tests on asylum seekers is " …


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  1. Jonathan 17

    Whats the name of that law again?

    Godwin's law is it?

    Then again, I dont see why they bother. Since when have the government listened to actual scientists or other interested and informed members of the public when making policy decisions? They seem to prefer making mistakes and then blaming someone else.

    See also: the classification of marijuana as a Class B drug, the Home Office/BT/Phorm mixup, the ID card scheme, the massive government surveillance database, etc etc.

  2. Dave Mitchell


    Mitochondiral DNA is passed down (mostly unchanged) from your mother. So all it really tells you is what ethnicity your mother's mother's mother's mother's ... mother was. Utterly bogus for determing what region you were born in, let alone your nationality.

  3. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Why the surprise...

    The UK border agency couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery.

    It can't even seem to organise the putting of enough "guards" on duty at airports to check passports when large numbers of passengers arrive (see below), so why in Gods name is anybody suprised that valid science is the last thing on their minds when it comes to these sorts of checks.

    Two weeks ago at Heathrow. My flight carried about 400 people and landed at 21:00. There are 25 or so desks at passport control but only 2 "guards" actually checking passports - hence long and tiresome queues. Did notice plenty of uniformed border agency people standing around chatting though.

  4. Asgard
    Big Brother

    Why don't they just bolt an Aerial on everyones head and be done with it...

    "experiments with various DNA and isotope tests to try and "prove" an individual's nationality"

    Racial profiling of any kind doesn't work (and is insulting to say the least) but its interesting how political history repeats itself where the people in power want to identify and pigeon hole people based on an assumption of racial genetic purity (which is totally wrong if they bothered to learn history). I wonder if historians will list this as NuLabour's Nazism years.

  5. kosmos

    Coming next week...

    Craniometrics... You have the forehead of an egyptian and the slightly elevated eyebrow of the eternally confused....

    Mines the one with the hair stuck on the sleeve and assorted nail clippings in the pocket...

  6. Big Al


    I would guess that this trial is based on the fact that certain mtDNA sub-clades can be traced to particular, relatively narrow areas, e.g. the L3f2 and L3e5 sub-clades that seem to be autochthonous to the Chad Basin.

    Research published in 2006* showed, for example, that L3f2 is nearly restricted to the Chad Basin and in particular to Chadic speaking populations, whereas L3e5 shows evidence for diffusion into North Africa at about 7,100 Y.B.P.

    However, as others are obviously telling the Government, there's no way that this principle can yet be applied reliably to distinguish closely-related ethnic groups in the Horn of Africa.

    * Cerny et al, A bidirectional corridor in the Sahel-Sudan belt and the distinctive features of the Chad Basin populations: a history revealed by the mitochondrial DNA genome, Annals of Human Genetics.

  7. HFoster

    Maybe I have the wrong end of a large stick

    Couldn't they use experts to interview people?

    It would be time-consuming and costly, but it would probably work better if the people whose cases were under review were interviewed, even casually or covertly by people from or whose families came from the area in question.

    e.g. They could plant people in the waiting room to make smalltalk with individuals whose case may be under review, casually dropping in references to their home country ("the weather here is terrible. If life wasn't so hard, I'd have stayed in Eritrea.") in an effort to lead the mark into giving something away.

    Probably not admissible alone, but probably more effective than using mtDNA techniques that don't work.

  8. Alpha Tony

    Testing for midichlorian DNA?

    You know what? I just felt a great disturbance in the force myself.. as if millions of voices suddenly cried out "Isn't it time for an election yet?"

  9. Vincent Ballard

    Isotopes in bones

    Be very careful what you say about the Adam Torso case, or you'll give them the idea of taking bone samples. Before you know it they'll be changing the "Tougher checks take longer" slogan by appending " and are more painful".

  10. Cameron Colley

    Now I get it -- the final piece of the puzzle.

    All this government is doing it preparing the infrastructure for the BNP when they take power -- things will be so much easier for them and their worthless, brain-dead followers with all this cool technology in place.

  11. davenewman

    Somalis live in many countries

    Since there are Somalis in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti (not to mention Melbourne), how can knowing that someone is a Somali (if that were possible) tell you what nationality they are.

    We need to make it compulsory for Ministers and Permanent Secretaries to fly out with expelled asylum seekers, so they can personally experience the suffering that turns people into refugees. They might even then learn enough of the language to pick out those trying to con their way in. That's what ex-colonial service immigration officers used to do.

  12. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Standing on the Shoulders of Fools

    It's bloody obvious to anyone with an ounce of cluon that someone having "Somalian DNA" doesn't prove they are Somali Nationals, nor does not having it prove they aren't. I'm British, born and bred ( though can't say I'm proud of this country any more ), yet I'm sure my DNA would probably say otherwise, some mix of Russian, French, Irish and I don't know what else.

    For all the good this will do they may as well get asylum seekers to piss in a jar and decide admittance on whether it's got a 'favourable tang' or not.

  13. Big Al

    @ Alpha Tony

    This message is a requisition form for 1 (one) new keyboard, reference comment

    "I just felt a great disturbance in the force myself.. as if millions of voices suddenly cried out "Isn't it time for an election yet?""

    Additional note:

    Brilliant line that I shall be using myself in the very near future...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Nothing new about UKBA using naive and flawed assessments

    If you come across someone who's managed to get into the country, ask them about being rejected "on the balance of probabilities", i.e. the UKBA judge that most people in that country are thieves and scumbags, therefore on the balance of probabilities (ignoring any details suggesting the contrary) you must be too. There is no justice in the UKBA's methodology. Maybe they can persuade someone who's not been through the system that they respect justice and fairness and truth (etc), but once within the system it is all revealed to be a lie. Using DNA is no different to looking at someone's home town or background or income and assuming that you know everything about them, which is already the working procedure. So in short, nothing has changed here.

  15. nsld
    Paris Hilton

    its all ok

    Thos beacons of scientific probity at the Jill Dando Institute will publish something which makes it all ok

    Paris, she's examined dna from many places

  16. The Indomitable Gall

    Genetics of nationality

    What's got into all you naysayers? Don't you realise how easy it is to trace nationality by DNA?

    Once upon a time, there were several great Empires: Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and Great Britain. These powers went to foreign lands and through meticulous surveys of tribal links divided their conquests into racially harmonised territories and protectorates. This as opposed to just drawing lines on a map.

    Had they just drawn lines on a map, these days Tutses would have found themselves living in Hutu-majority areas and Hutus would have found themselves living in Hutu-majority areas and there would be big racist massacres and genocide and all that, rather than Africa being the paradisical peace-loving continent it is today.

    Had they just drawn lines on a map, this DNA thing would be useless, but as their new countries were ethnically homogenous, that's not the case.

  17. SirTainleyBarking

    Something about Eugenics was it?

    It seems our masters are finally letting their mask slip

  18. Chris 12


    They've clearly been watching too much csi.

    Can we sue the producers for any future miscarriages of justice?

  19. Swarthy

    Missing the point

    It may be the distance distorting things as I peer across the pond, but this doesn't look like an attempt at racial profiling, or even actually determining where a person is from. This looks like an attempt at getting asylum seekers into the DNA database.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Genetics and Nationality?

    What's it called when people confuse genetics with nationality?

    Oh yeah, I remember: "British Jobs for British Workers."

    New Labour - putting the "National" into National Socialism.

  21. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Underdogs Misunderestimated ......

    "All this government is doing it preparing the infrastructure for the BNP when they take power -- things will be so much easier for them and their worthless, brain-dead followers with all this cool technology in place." ...... By Cameron Colley Posted Wednesday 30th September 2009 15:44 GMT

    When all are supporting leaders learning new roles, are they a Stealthy Smart Underground Source. ...... and Valid Force with Provisional Intelligence/AIdDynamic Information ....... HyperRadioProActive IT.

  22. Charles Manning

    Country of origin labelling!

    Cool. At least I'll know my Russian bride is the real deal!

    Perhaps there are a few areas where mDNA is relatively static, but pretty much every culture and ethnicity in the world has a history of raiding and running off with soon-to-be-ex virgins under each arm.

    That's got to stir the pot somewhat and limit application to areas where the female population hasn't moved about much, perhaps very isolated tribes.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Wait, it's not April 1st?

    Oh, sure, that sounds REALLY effective. 'cos, you know, your country of origin and your nationality are OBVIOUSLY the same, forever.

    It's not like you can, say, become a resident in another country and then apply for citizenship, is it? Oh...wait. Oops. FAIL.

    Speaking of which, /me is looking forward to the day I can renounce my UK citizenship, if this is the sort of crazy the govt. back home insists on pursuing. Just a shame it's merely a symbolic gesture, really.

  24. Nomen Publicus

    stupid or incompetent?

    It costs around £100 to get a DNA analysis and it takes days to weeks to get a result. As I doubt they will hold someone until the results appear the whole thing is pointless even in principle.

    Is this just our government trying to get even more data into the DNA database they have been told to empty of innocent peoples data?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Sub Clades

    e.g. the L3f2 and L3e5 sub-clades that seem to be autochthonous to the Chad Basin."

    Lets not kid ourselves, they want an excuse to refuse applications for asylum, this will give them another excuse.

    They want to tackle asylum seekers because there was a backlash against immigration, after UK became swamped with immigrants. The immigration that swamped the UK came from Eastern Europe, and Blair campaigned for the rapid (IMHO too rapid) EU expansion into the east. So they were partly to blame and could not fix that.

    So they talked up 'illegal' immigrants instead, hence stopping a hundred Africans is the fix because they couldn't do anything about the millions of Eastern Europe immigrants legally entering the country.

    Even if it means pseudo science and crazy eugenics stuff they want to keep secret. So they'll see L3f2 and say "no, you must be from Chad" and they know it means squat, but it is the excuse for refusal needed to defeat their duty under the UN Convention on Refugees.

    It doesn't fix immigration, because it doesn't apply to EU citizens, it doesn't work, or have a useful purpose or is cost effective, but that doesn't matter. It is a sop to the BNP voters and for that purpose it works.

  26. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Also from the Home Office

    There's the e-phrenology scheme which works out an individual's prospective criminality based on mobile phone photos of the bumps on people's heads; citizen's juries where a mob of 'Sun' readers get to pass judgement on petty criminals using a ducking school and a lexicon of very short words; and literally bleeding-edge trials where small animals are sacrificed in front of a mad woman on an unstable platform who goes on to shriek gibberish about the crime. The last one is rumoured to be in trouble - though to be fair Jackie Smith hasn't been quite the same since her husband's ham-fisted exposure with the porn stash.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    possibly relevant

  28. This post has been deleted by its author

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They should try it on Gordon and Peter...

    "We have a problem, officer! According to our forensic analysis, these men are not of terrestrial origin at all! They seem to come from some alien planet where logical truth values are inverted".

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