DNA fingerprinting is any technique for analyzing the DNA content of an individual that can be used to characterize the individual. One type of fingerprint is based on randomly amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD). This uses a random short primer sequence with the polymerase chain reaction to find and amplify any sequences in an individual's DNA.
Sir Alec Jeffreys: Inventor of DNA Fingerprinting
In 1985, Sir Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester invented a technique called DNA fingerprinting, also known as DNA typing or profiling. Jeffreys and his colleagues were researching a human α-globin gene when they discovered that it contained several adjacent repeats of the same sequence.
Uses of DNA Fingerprinting
Medical researchers, forensic biologists, genealogists and anthropologists all use DNA fingerprinting to identify individuals or to determine the relation between individuals or groups of individuals. Information gained from DNA fingerprinting can answer questions concerning the structure and migration of human populations, establish paternity and place a suspect at the scene of a crime.
Issues Involving DNA Fingerprinting
Despite the usefulness of DNA fingerprinting, the development and use of DNA fingerprinting has never been a simple and "clean" technology. This is one drawback of DNA typing. Another drawback is the potential for invasion of privacy. The availability of DNA typing opens the door for a host of new programs and procedures in which governmental agencies might be able to collect personal information about an individual, store that data in huge databases, and use it in whatever way they want.
Value of DNA Databases
One of the most controversial issues related to DNA typing is the possibility of developing large collections of DNA "fingerprints" of many individuals. Such DNA databases would be valuable because most individuals who commit a crime are repeat offenders. It is relatively rare that a person steals, assaults, rapes or murders only once. Instead, individuals tend to commit the same or different offenses over and over again.
In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) maintains a database of the DNA profiles of sex offenders, convicted felons and others who have previously had DNA fingerprinting analysis performed. The database, called CODIS for "Combined DNA Index System," allows law enforcement agencies to search stored profiles for a match to DNA from a crime scene even when they do not have a suspect.