This article deals with ‘DNA Fingerprinting – UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Science and Technology’ which is an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.
DNA Finger Printing / DNA Profiling
- DNA profiling, or DNA fingerprinting, is a forensic method used to identify a person using a unique signature found in their DNA.
- Alec Jeffreys first developed DNA fingerprinting technique in 1985.
- It uses the fact that the DNA of a person is unique.
- The Short Tandem Repeat (STM) Technique is the most commonly used technique, which involves identifying differences in some specific regions in DNA sequence. However, there are 23 pairs of human chromosomes with 1.5 million pairs of genes. But 99.9% of the DNA base sequences are the same (called Bulk Genomic DNA). The remaining 0.1% DNA sequence differs from one individual to another and is present as a small stretch of repeated sequences called Short Tandem Repeats (STM).
It involves following steps
Uses of DNA Fingerprinting
- Forensic analysis: It can be used in the identification of a (1) person involved in criminal activities, (2) for settling paternity or maternity disputes, and (3) in determining relationships for immigration purposes.
- Pedigree analysis: It can be used for inheritance pattern of genes through generations and for detecting inherited diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis, Haemophilia, Huntington’s Disease, Sickle Cell Anaemia etc.
- Personal Identification: DNA fingerprints can be used as a genetic bar code to identify individuals.
- Anthropological studies: It is useful in determining the origin and migration of human populations and genetic diversities.
- DNA Barcoding: A technique for specifying the organisms’ species using a short sequence of DNA situated in the genome is termed DNA bar-coding. The barcode DNA sequences are too short in respect to the complete genome and hence cheaper.
DNA Fingerprinting in India
- Pioneering work was done by Lalji Singh at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad
- Other centres are :
- Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (Hyderabad)
- Centre for DNA Fingerprinting & Diagnostics (Hyderabad)
- Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Kolkata
- National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resource (NBPGR), New Delhi
- National Institute of Plant and Genetic Research (NIPGR), New Delhi
DNA Technologies (Use & Regulation) Bill, 2019
There are a large number of
- Missing persons
- Unclaimed dead bodies
DNA fingerprinting can help the government in this regard.
Moreover, DNA is accepted as evidence under Evidence Act. Hence, it can help in increasing the conviction rate.
Issues with DNA Fingerprinting in India
- Lack of regulation
- Privacy issue
- Lack of DNA labs and experts.
- Unscientific forensic data collection techniques used by police.
- Use of DNA Data: DNA testing is allowed only regarding matters listed in the schedule to the Bill (such as paternity suits).
- Permission for the use of DNA Data: While preparing a DNA profile,
- Authorities must obtain consent for collection if the offence carries a punishment of up to 7 years.
- If the offence carries more than seven years of imprisonment or death, consent is not required.
- Two new bodies will be created
- DNA Regulatory Board: To supervise and regulate DNA Data Banks and DNA Laboratories.
- DNA Data Bank (National & State): Data Banks will store DNA profiles received from DNA laboratories.
- Protection of information:
- Board is required to ensure that all information relating to DNA profiles with the Data Banks, laboratories and other persons are kept confidential
- DNA data can only be used for identification of the person (and not for extracting any other information (like Health Vulnerabilities to be used by Insurance companies))
- Option for deletion of data – There is also provision for defined instances for deletion of profiles and destruction of DNA profiles (like if the charge-sheeted person whose DNA samples has been stored in DNA Data Bank has been acquitted by Court).
- Penalties: Any violation would attract imprisonment up to three years and a fine of up to 1 lakhs.
- In the absence of any Data Protection Act, DNA information stored in Data Bank can be vulnerable.
- Along with that, leakage of data can reveal intrusive information like a person’s allergies or vulnerability to diseases. This information can be misused by various organizations such as (health) insurance agencies.
- Critics say that DNA Matching tech is not entirely foolproof. There are chances, even if very low, of erroneous results.
- Problems of cross-contaminating samples, mislabelling samples, misrepresenting test results and intentionally planting DNA.
- In India, instead of forensic investigators and scientists, an untrained constable goes to the crime scene first, who does not know how to collect evidence scientifically and, in the process, destroys vital DNA evidence.
Lack of DNA examiners
- According to international practice, one DNA examiner can take 100 cases per year. As of now, there are 40,000 unclaimed dead bodies each year & 400 examiners are required. But India has a total of 35-40 examiners.
No improvement in conviction rates
- Over the last 25 years, most countries have adopted a DNA fingerprinting law and have developed databases for criminal investigation, disaster identification and forensic science. However, DNA tests have not improved conviction rates in countries where it is already being followed.
Is already happening, better to do it in a regulated way
- Experts say that apprehensions of data misuse & privacy are more in case of the absence of regulation.
- Minimal information is proposed to be stored (just 13 sets of numbers out of billions ). This can tell nothing about an individual except to act as a unique identifier
- Moreover, DNA will be collected from very limited persons in conflict with the law.
- Time has come to use forensic evidence in corroboration with eyewitness evidence.