Forget Genomics, Just Do the Genetics That We Know How to Do: The Rape Kit Edition

As genomics becomes cheaper and more accessible, the torrent of articles debating and discussing its effects on human health will only increase. My contribution to this genre is to argue that microbial genomics is also critical, and, in the short term, is much more likely to lead to healthcare interventions. All this discussion, however, doesn’t mean much if we don’t ever deploy these technologies. And if we’re lax about cheap, old-school genetic methods for budgetary reasons, one wonders how widely adopted genomics will actually be (boldface mine):

Back in 2009, over 11,000 kits were found abandoned in a Detroit Police storage facility. After processing just 1,600 of them so far, Detroit has identified about 100 serial rapists and ten convicted rapists. Those perpetrators have moved on from Michigan to commit similar crimes in 23 other states.

Of course, Detroit is not alone. Nationwide, there are an estimated 400,000 untested rape kits. One of our favorite actress/activists Law and Order: SVU’s Mariska Hargitay… has been raising awareness about this issue for awhile now. Her organization, The Joyful Heart Foundation, has launched a project called End The Backlog to pressure cities and states to prioritize testing their kits…. thankfully, 17 states have proposed new legislation to address their backlogs.

Most rapes are committed by serial rapists, so even just cracking a small percentage of these cases can make a large dent in the crime rate. Compared to genomics, this stuff is dirt cheap–if a wealthy philanthropist wanted to make his or her mark, clearing out the national backlog wouldn’t be that expensive. And I’m not buying the $500 – $1,500 cost per kit, given the low costs of sequencing entire genomes–even from CLIA-certified facilities. Sounds like de facto monopoly pricing. This can be done at a lower cost.

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