“They gather DNA with Covid tests”, “It’s about theft of genetic data”, “The goal is gene correction”.
These are some of the untrue statements that have been circling through social media in the past few weeks, after the implementation of the non-invasive rapid Covid-19 tests for the students in Bulgaria.
Among the popular disseminators of such information is the veterinarian doctor Plamen Paskov. “It’s about theft of genetic data…Now, the purpose of these ‘lollipops’ is diagnostics. But is it really only diagnostics? Doesn’t kids’ saliva carry their genetic material, which goes into those antigen tests”, he said in a Facebook live video on Nov. 17, where he has over 110 000 followers and over 55 000 likes.
To support his statement, Paskov showed a message from the Ministry of Education and Science (MES) from August 30, 2021. The message goes that Bulgaria has allotted 3 million leva for gathering genome data as part of the project “European Genome.”
The same false information has been spreading in the private group WAKE UP! in the texting app Telegram, consisting of over 1100 members. In it you can find posted parents’ appeals to “remove their kids from school”. Among the disseminators is the account alion.963 in the social media TikTok. There, the user, who introduces himself/herself as an online journalist and explorer, has posted a video with a piece of Plamen Paskov’s statement. The account alion.963 possesses 39.6 thousand followers and a total of over 660 000 likes on published videos.
At the same time, this is also one of the reasons parents boycott testing in schools. According to data from MES, posted on Dec. 14, 18% of students don’t study on-ground.
Factcheck.bg’s investigation not only showed that there is no evidence of gathering DNA with tests, it also showed that this is practically impossible. Here’s the facts:
What are Educational Ministry’s rules?
Testing in schools is done with non-invasive examination by discharging saliva in a small package. Once taken, the probe is mixed with a special reactive solution, after which it is placed on a plate that will show the results. If it’s negative, the examination is concluded and the kid can go to class. If it’s positive, the kid is separated from its classmates and his/her parents have to take him/her home.
After all examinations are done, all the waste, including biological, is thrown away by the school staff into the waste bins. That’s what MES wrote in the “Updated measures for teaching and actions in an emergency epidemic situation”. The procedure is similar for positive tests – they are put into special boxes for incineration of hazardous waste, after which they are disposed of. According to those rules, there is no way the biological material taken from the students is used for any other purposes.
Can you extract DNA from a non-invasive Covid test?
DNA means deoxyribonucleic acid. By definition, it carries genetic instructions for the biological development of all cell forms of life and for many viruses. The main function of the DNA molecule is the long-term preservation of information.
When asked whether there is a way to extract DNA from the saliva taken with a non-invasive Covid test, Dr. Irena Ivanova, head of the clinical lab in the Saint Ivan Rilski hospital, told Factcheck.bg: “This is ridiculous. There is no such thing”. According to her, the kids’ saliva does not contain a sufficient amount of genetic material, in order for it to be extracted and examined. Also, in order to conduct a genome analysis, it is required that the probe be taken and preserved in certain conditions, which are nonexistent in the school institutions.
Professor Albena Todorova from the lab Genika told Factcheck.bg that it is practically impossible that DNA can be extracted from so many kids. She added that genome examinations are usually done with a blood test. According to her, a salivary genetic material is used as an exception and it requires an extremely quick processing of the probe.
According to what has been posted in different labs’ websites, a DNA analysis takes two weeks to several months. The price for the procedure starts at 200 leva and could reach up to 5 000 leva. That’s the reason why this type of examinations often encompasses only specific genes, not the entire human genome.
Is there a connection between kids’ testing in schools and the project “1000 genomes”?
In his video, Plamen Paskov claims that the gathered DNA material from the kids will be part of the European project “European Genome”- a permanent database for research and innovations in public health services in 23 countries, including Bulgaria. The genome refers to the entire hereditary information of an organism. In the description of the project, it is said that participation in sequencing of the human genome is entirely voluntary and is done after an informed consent. The tests are done with the WGS (whole-genome sequencing) technology, which requires a blood test.
The execution of the “European Genome” project started in 2018, long before the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for school testing. Its primary goal is to gather at least one million human genomes by the end of 2022, which can be organized in banks. With that, scientists will determine the specificity in human organisms in different parts of Europe. The purpose is for diagnostics and treatments of a number of illnesses to be personalized and effective.
The statement that school testing is designed for the purpose of gathering kids’ DNA is false. All biological materials from the Covd-19 examination with a negative result are disposed in the waste bins in accordance to the Ministry’s rules. The ones with a positive result are disposed in incarceration boxes. Specialists pointed out that you can’t practically extract DNA from that type of tests, due to specifications that non-invasive tests and the conditions, in which they are conducted, don’t cover. DNA tests are mainly done with a blood test, and even when they are done with a salivary discharge, they should be quickly processed, which is impossible in a school environment. The project “European Genome” has started years before the Coronavirus, and the examination is conducted with a blood test.
Translated by Vera Arzumanyan