Thousands of DNA samples from Sardinia were reported missing from an Italian lab last week. They were thought to have been stolen in August, and Italian authorities began an investigation.
Now, Italian authorities say the samples have been found at a nearby hospital where they were moved to about three years ago, and are being used as part of a research project. But the fact that they were never actually stolen doesn't end the story, Nature News says — the real question now is who the samples and related data really belong to.
Parco Genos, the biomedical facility that was storing the samples, was originally a non-profit firm owned by local municipalities, Nature News reports. It's now owned by medical-equipment entrepreneur Piergiorgio Lorrai. And the accompanying genealogical and health data of the donors is held at a lab owned by research company Shardna Life Science. Shardna was originally a joint venture between Italy's National Research Council (CNR) and a Sardinian entrepreneur, is now owned by a private biotech firm called Tiziana Life Sciences, Nature News says.
So the samples were originally collected by a public institution and are now nominally owned by private businesses. But Italian law is unclear on whether donor consent transferred to the private businesses along with the samples.
CNR researcher Mario Pirastu, who moved the samples in the first place in order to use them in his research, tells Nature News that "the samples belong to the citizens, while the rights to use them once belonged to Shardna, and now to Tiziana Life Sciences. But CNR has always had privileged access to the data and will continue to have, and this guarantees that research is done in the public interest."
He now fears a delay in his research because of the investigation. Italian prosecutors have said Tiziana may have to re-contact all donors and ask them to sign new consent forms.
"I think that the goal of the denunciation was not really to report a theft, but to put a spotlight on a very complicated situation. And in a way, it worked," prosecutor Biagio Mazzeo tells Nature News.