Danish researchers want DNA from the dead

A necrogenomic registry could provide a massive boost to research

A group of Danish researchers are looking into the possibility of collecting DNA material from the deceased in order to create a necrogenomic registry – a genome archive of the dead.

Michael Christiansen, a chief physician from the State Serum Institute, argued that a ‘biological archive’ containing the DNA of dead Danes would prove instrumental in discovering cures for illness and disease.

“Our idea is to collect DNA from all dead Danes,” Christiansen told Videnskab.dk. “If we did that over the course of a year, we would have genomes from 60,000 Danes who had lived out their lives. In ten years we would have half a million, and that’s much better information than what we are working with now.”

“I’m 55 and many of my genetic variations have not given me an illness. But who knows if I’ll be sitting in a nursing home in five years suffering from Alzheimers? To be able to discover what a genetic variation means for a life, you have to have lived it in its entirety.”

READ MORE: Majority favour national DNA registry

A huge benefit
Researchers are constantly discovering new genetic variations that could lead to science finding a breakthrough in curing or preventing one disease or another.

A critical element of that research involves scientists being given access to patient information and DNA-laden bio-banks. While Denmark is a world-class nation when it comes to giving researchers access to DNA material, while protecting the anonymity of the source, much can be improved.

“We draw conclusions from DNA mostly obtained from relatively young people,” said Christiansen. “So with what certainty do we speak about what catalyses illness?”

“We humans are distinguished from one another by 4 million base pairs, and while one genetic variation leads to illness for some, it doesn’t for others. In reality, the conclusions currently being made are uncertain.”

The proposal has been published as a letter to the acclaimed journal Science (here in English).