Verogen Inc. wants to make the same tools that have helped solve dozens of cold cases available to crime labs across the U.S.

The closely held forensic-genomics company said this week it had agreed to buy GEDmatch, a website where genealogy enthusiasts can upload raw DNA data to try to connect with relatives and fill out their family trees. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

GEDmatch found itself at the center of a controversy over police access to private genetic information after investigators used its relative-finding tools to identify a suspect in the case of the Golden State Killer, a serial murderer who terrorized California in the 1970s and 1980s but eluded police.

The widely heralded breakthrough also led to concerns that people who had shared genetic information with GEDmatch could unwittingly have exposed themselves or their relatives to police searching for suspects in long-dormant investigations. The database’s sale to a commercial buyer will add another dimension to a complex debate over genetic privacy.

Verogen, which was spun off from Illumina Inc. in 2017, sells sequencing services to law enforcement. With the GEDmatch deal, Chief Executive Officer Brett Williams said, the company plans to begin selling technology that will allow labs to create the same sort of basic genetic profiles users can upload to GEDmatch from companies such as 23andMe Inc. Investigators could then comb through matches to try to find leads to suspects.

“Our business model is to place our instrument in all 300 crime labs in the U.S. to process these leads,” Williams said in an interview.

Burgeoning Sector

The deal underlines how a still-developing field has drawn interest from players looking to profit. FamilyTreeDNA and Parabon NanoLabs, which uses GEDmatch’s database to find matches, also offer forensic-genealogy services to law enforcement.

Some privacy advocates said the sale will add new urgency to questions about who can use the genetic information stored in such databases and how.

“My big concern is that we have three for-profit companies controlling these databases with no ethical or regulatory oversight,” said Debbie Kennett, a genealogist and author, “so the only limitations on police power are the terms of service of the companies.”

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