Dutch researchers under fire over China DNA research links

DNA testing. Photo: Depositphotos.com
DNA testing. Photo: Depositphotos.com

Researchers at Erasmus University’s teaching hospital have been working with Chinese scientists on developing more sensitive DNA technology, investigative website Follow the Money and RTL Nieuws said on Wednesday.

Leiden’s teaching hospital LUMC and the Dutch forensic institute NFI are also involved in some of the projects, the news sites say.

Both systems, which involve detecting physical characteristics such as eye or hair colour from a drop of blood, could be used to check up on minorities and political opponents, experts told the websites. Some of the research involves blood from the Uyghurs, a persecuted religious minority in China.

The news sites claim the Dutch researchers are working with Chinese teams who have contacts with the Chinese police and that this could mean sensitive technology ends up in the hands of officials there.

Some of the research was also paid for by the Chinese police, FTM said.

MPs from the three main parties forming the next coalition government have said they want to prevent the transfer of expertise to the Chinese authorities and D66 has called for a parliamentary inquiry.

‘We must do all we can to prevent Dutch DNA expertise being used as a weapon by the Chinese authorities to suppress the Uyghurs,’ D66 MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma said. Scientific alliances need a clear focus to ‘protect researchers against this sort of undesirable cooperation,’ he said.

Erasmus MC told FTM that it had now stopped using the Uyghur DNA sample, which dates from 2013/14. ‘Not because we have doubts about how it was obtained but because of the general discussion which sowing doubts about this,’ the university said.

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