DNA Profiling Used in Courts

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DNA Profiling Used in Courts

DNA profiling is a technique often used to identify criminals or the
biological parents of a child through the analysis of their
deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The technique is very successful as it is
based on the fact that every person possesses their own individual set
of DNA, which is unique to them with the exception of identical twins.
DNA found in materials such as blood, semen, bone and hair is
extracted for analysis. There are issues involved in its application
as it can be seen as an invasion of ones privacy through the use of
DNA banks. Recently there has been some speculation about the accuracy
of DNA profiling leading to concerns regarding the potential for
criminals to have been falsely convicted. The cost of DNA profiling is
very expensive making it inaccessible to some people. There is also
potential for the misuse of DNA profiling.

There are several different techniques of DNA profiling currently used
today. I have chosen to investigate the most common type of DNA
profiling, restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP). The first
part of the process is called restriction digest. Firstly the DNA is
broken into pieces using an enzyme called Hinfl. This enzyme, which
comes from the bacteria Haemophilus influenza, is able to recognise
and break DNA whenever a sequence of GANTC appears. GANTC stands for
the bases that are found in DNA (Guanine, Adenine, Cytosine and
Thymine). The N stands for any nucleotide (phosphorus and sugar). The
pieces of DNA are then sorted by size using electrophoresis. DNA
particles are placed into an agarose gel and an electrical charge is
applied to gel. A positive charge is applied to the bottom and a
negative charge to the top of the gel, which is able to conduct
electricity. The negatively charged DNA particles are attracted to the
bottom of the gel. The smaller fragments of DNA move quicker so they
will be found at the very bottom of the gel. Heat or chemicals are
used to break the DNA into single strands, which involves breaking the

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hydrogen bonds of the original DNA. The gel containing the fragments
of DNA is then used to make a Southern Blot. The gel is applied to a
sheet of nitrocellulose. The DNA is transfered to the sheet of
nitrocellulose through a capillary action. The wick draws the DNA up
onto the nitrocellulose. Nylon maybe used instead of the
nitrocellulose as it has a greater binding capacity and is less
fragile. The nitrocellulose is then treated with UV light that links
the DNA to the nitrocellulose through covalent bonds. Another method
to obtain this same bonding is baking the nitrocellulose for a couple
of hours. The Southern Blot can now be analysed. A fragment of DNA is
labelled and is used as a probe. The labelling of the probe is done by
making the probe radioactive. The probe is used to see if the single
stranded DNA contains a similar sequence to the probe. The DNA is
placed in a bag with a saline liquid and shaken. The probe then binds
to a complementary strand of DNA (if present). Some bonds may form
even if the two pieces of DNA do not match 100%. The DNA sequences are
then graded using homology. The chance of low homology probes forming
can be reduced by varying the temperature of hybridization or varying
the salinity of the liquid in the bag. The excess is washed away
leaving radioactive probe on the nitrocellulose. A radiograph is
created by the radiation that the radioactive DNA emits. This pattern
is called a VNTR .The radiograph of the DNA found at the scene of the
crime can then be compared to the radiograph of the suspects DNA. They
are matched using the barcode like marks created by the probe DNA.
Variable Number Tandem Repeats (VNTR) are sequences where the bases
pairs are repeated from anywhere between twenty to one hundred base
pairs.

Left: This diagram is of the DNA profiling process.

Below left: is the set up used to transfer the DNA fragments to the
membrane.

[IMAGE]

[IMAGE]

Another method of DNA profiling is PCR. PCR requires less DNA to be
used in the testing. Below is a flow chart of PCR :

Are courts relying on DNA evidence too much? The courts normally
regard DNA profiling evidence as a reliable source and believe it is a
witness that always tells the truth. There are many opportunities for
DNA profiling technology to be taken advantage of to frame person for
crime they did not commit. Many courts view DNA evidence as somewhat
as a verdict rather than just another piece of evidence. However
courts should be more wary as the true criminal may have planted the
DNA evidence found at the crime scene. For example, a man walks into a
house in the middle of the night and kills his sleeping victim. Then
he uses an atomizer, which contains molecules of someone else's DNA to
spray every surface of the room. How do the investigators know which
is the murders DNA? Many scientists are also asking this question.
David Berryman a scientist asked this question to some forensic
experts and was told that they had no way of checking if their DNA
samples had been sabotaged and that DNA collected at the crime scene
was assumed to be the real DNA. Dr Tony Raymond who is in charge of
the forensic services for the NSW Police said "People have said it's
easy for police to plant DNA evidence. I've always thought it's easy
for a criminal to plant DNA evidence". Another issue is the accuracy
of DNA profiling. It was once thought that DNA profiling was 99%
accurate however the accuracy depends on the machine and person
analysing it. In the United States a few charges were dismissed after
judges ruled that laboratories had not conducted the tests properly.
Recently there has been some speculation over DNA evidence from the
murder of Jaidyn Leski. The police believe that it had been
contaminated not at the scene but back at the lab.

Bibliography



Textbooks:
==========

Peter J. Russel, Fundimentals of Genetics, 1994

Susan Aldridge, The Thread of Life, Cambridge University Press, 1996

Jennifer Greggory, Applications of Genetics, Cambridge University
Press, 1995

Journal/Newspaper/Periodical articles:

Nigel Hunt, Inmate DNA points to unsolved crime, The Advertiser,
11-08-2003

Victoria Laurie, Shadows of Doubt, Australian Colour Magazine,
27-09-2003-10-29

Linda E. Taylor, The facts, and nothing but the facts. (discerning the
legal facts of a case and the wrongful convictions in Canadacorrected
by DNA evidence), Canada and the World Backgrounder, 01-12-1995

Websites:

DNA Profiling,

http://www.biology.washington.edu/fingerprint/blot.html (visited on
23-10-03)

www.forensic-evidence.com (29-10-03)

www.whyfiles.org (24-10-03)

www.esr.cri.nz/features/esr_and_dna/history (29-10-03) accessed for
pictures only.

Encyclopaedias:

World book 1999, international edition, DNA Fingerprinting, CD-rom

Encyclopaedia Encarta 1999, deluxe edition, DNA, CD-rom


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