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Genetics & Justice Laboratory

The Genetics & Justice Laboratory (GxJ Lab) is a “dry” policy laboratory designed to investigate human rights and humanitarian applications of genetic information in non-medical contexts including immigration, missing persons, human trafficking, law enforcement, displacement, mass disasters, and post-war investigations. How the public views and interacts with these applications directly affects their perspectives on participation in genetic and genomic research in the medical realm.

DNA technologies are powerful tools to prevent human trafficking, identify missing persons, and link genetic families. While use of DNA for criminal law enforcement purposes is widely accepted, emerging tools and approaches in law enforcement and applications in many nonmedical contexts are fraught with challenges regarding data security, privacy, respect for persons, abuse of power, beneficence, and resource allocation.

At Lurie Children’s and Northwestern University, we are exploring the policy, science, and ethics of genomic information for identification purposes. We seek to develop a sophisticated understanding of the key challenges for applying scientific technologies and biometrics in support of and in line with human rights, with an initial focus on DNA identification and an emerging focus on facial images as a biometric.

The research team is led by Sara H. Katsanis and encompasses aspects of how genomics is integrated into law enforcement, immigration processes, and humanitarian efforts.

DNA in Immigration Projects

  • DNA to aid reunification of separated migrant families
  • BorderDNA Resources project
    • DNA for identification of missing migrants
    • DNA to verify migrant family relationships
    • DNA collection from migrants for law enforcement

Other Related Projects

  • Perspectives on biometric applications
  • DNA in forensics and law enforcement
  • Investigative genetic genealogy
  • Improvements to missing person investigation practices
  • Genomics issues in the media

Recent Publications

  • Barnert E, Katsanis SH, Mishori R, Wagner JK, Selden RF, Madden D, Berger D, Erlich H, Hampton K, Kleiser A, La Vaccara A, Parsons TJ, Peccerelli FA, Piñero MH, Stebbins MJ, Vásquez P, Warf CW, White TJ, Stover E, Svetaz MV (2021) DNA to reunify separated migrant families, Science, 372(6547):1154-1156 (denotes equal contribution)
  • Madden D, Baker, Wagner JK, Katsanis SH (2022) Framing the utility and potential pitfalls of relationship and identity DNA testing across United States immigration contexts, Human Genetics and Genomics Advances, 3(1):100060. doi: 10.1016/j.xhgg.2021.100060
  • Katsanis SH, Claes P, Doerr M, Cook-Deegan R, Tenenbaum JD, Evans B, Keun Lee M, Anderton J, Weinberg SM, Wagner JK (2021) A survey of U.S. public perspectives on facial recognition technology and facial imaging data practices in health and research contexts, PLoS One, 16(10): e0257923. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0257923 PMID: 34648520 PMCID: PMC8516205
  • Katsanis SH, Claes P, Doerr M, Cook-Deegan R, Tenenbaum JD, Evans B, Keun Lee M, Anderton J, Weinberg SM, Wagner JK (2021) U.S. adult perspectives on facial images, DNA and other biometrics, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Transactions on Technology and Society, doi: 10.1109/TTS.2021.3120317
  • Berger D, Hu M, Katsanis S, Wagner J. (2021) Midnight regulations and mass biometric data collection by DHS, The Regulatory Review, Mar 11, 2021
  • Katsanis SH, Madden D, Siegert CC, Canales E, Spradley MK (2021) Building a policy scaffold for transnational missing DNA data sharing challenges, Forced Migration Review, Issue 66, Mar 2021
  • Oray V, Katsanis SH (2021) Ethical considerations for DNA testing as a proxy for nationality, Global Bioethics, 32(1):51-56 doi: 10.1080/1128462.2021.1896454

Meet the Team