Basics of DNA Forensics Techniques
Obtaining DNA evidence is only a small part of the equation for proving a person's guilt or innocence. In fact, any forensics analysis - from criminal evidence to resolving paternity disputes - has DNA as a mere starting point. The true value lies in the outcome of DNA analysis, which can be performed through one or more of many different techniques.
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) AnalysisPCR analysis is a technique that allows technicians to create millions of precise DNA replications from a single sample of DNA. In fact, DNA amplification alongside PCR can let forensic scientists perform DNA analysis on samples that are as tiny as only a couple of skin cells. In contrast to some other DNA analysis techniques, PCR analysis has the advantage of analysing minuscule sample sizes, even if they are degraded although they must not be contaminated with DNA from other sources during the collection, storage and transport of the sample.
Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP)RFLP is a technique that is not widely used now but it was one of the first techniques used for DNA analysis in forensic science. Large sample sizes are needed for RFLP relative to newer techniques - usually a sample would need to be approximately the size of a one-pound coin. While that in itself may sound small, it is large relative to other techniques such as PCR analysis that require only a few cells for successful sequencing. In RFLP, the different lengths of DNA fragments are analysed. These fragments are from the digestion of a sample of DNA with a restriction endonuclease enzyme. The enzyme chops DNA in a certain style - the restriction endonuclease recognition site. Whether or not particular recognition sites are present will provide different lengths of DNA fragments, which are then divided up through electrophoresis. DNA probes then serve to hybridise the fragments through complementary binding.
Short Tandem Repeat (STR) AnalysisSTR analysis works to examine individual areas in DNA. The differences from the collective areas of one person to another can allow for distinguishing between individuals. In criminal investigations, there are thirteen regions that are analysed and compared to establish profiles. In fact, DNA databases used at the government level involve the sequence of these thirteen regions. The chances of two people having the exact same thirteen regions is virtually impossible - likely one in a billion. A common DNA joke is that a person's odds of winning the lottery are higher than finding a perfect match for the thirteen regions.
Mitochondrial DNA AnalysisMitochondrial DNA analysis works well on samples that are unable to be analysed through RFLP or STR analysis. There are two kinds of DNA in the cell - mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA. With other types of analysis, nuclear DNA is removed from the sample but with mitochondrial DNA analysis, DNA is removed from the cell's mitochondria. Sometimes, a sample can be old and will no longer have nuclear material in the cell, which poses a problem for the other types of DNA analysis. With mitochondrial DNA analysis, however, mitochondrial DNA can be removed, thus having important ramifications for cases that were not solved over many years. This means that mitochondrial DNA analysis can be very valuable in investigations for a missing person. Mitochondrial DNA will be the same from a woman to her daughter because it is passed on from the egg cell.
Y-Chromosome AnalysisSince the Y chromosome passes from a male to his son, analysing genetic markers on a Y chromosome can be of aid in identifying familial ties in males or for analysing any evidence entailing many males. Another benefit of Y-chromosome analysis is to establish a family line over many generations.
There are other types of analysis but these are some of the main traditional and current methods used to analyse DNA. No doubt, new techniques will be developed that will be even more rapid, successful and cost-effective.