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A Hong Kong Clean-up Campaign Identifies Litterbugs Through DNA

Give a hoot, don’t pollute… or they’ll find you through the small amount genetic material you leave on that candy wrapper.

A Hong Kong Clean-up Campaign Identifies Litterbugs Through DNA

Imagine if legendary litter cop Woodsy the Owl worked in a forensics lab. That’s pretty much what’s happening in a new project from the Hong Kong Cleanup Challenge and agency Ogilvy & Mather Hong Kong.

Every day in Hong Kong, more than 16,000 tons of waste is dumped in the streets and public spaces. So DNA technology firm Parabon Nanolabs is taking technology typically used in catching criminals to create DNA-based composites of litterbugs from genetic material left behind on the discarded trash. Posters of the perpetrators will be put up across the city and online.

Parabon scientist Dr. Ellen Greytak made from Snapshot tech. | Click to expand

Can they really create a picture of you from a candy wrapper you tossed on the curb? According to Parabon, its Snapshot tech is able to identify a high probability of certain features like eye color, showing that it’s not just brown, blue or green, for example, but that someone’s eyes may be blue with some green. It can also show skin color, hair color and ancestry. That determines the start of what a person looks like. Face shape is made up of traits, like small eyes, wide set, bumpy nose, big lips, etc. So the tech builds a model from the genotype and phenotype data in the sample and then uses a “modelling” program to represent the face from 44 possible variables to get an accurate idea of the litterbug.

So give a hoot, don’t pollute or, y’know, your own DNA might rat you out.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor and writer with Co.Create. He's a former staffer at Advertising Age, Creativity and Canadian Business magazine.