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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsHaving arrived at this point from consideration of the basics of genetics and the biochemistry of DNA, you may think that the DNA typing of blood for forensic identification is a matter of identifying the alleles in selected genes. But it isn't. One of the more recent advances in genetics was the successful sequencing of the total human genome. We now know that there are only between 20,000 and 25,000 genes in the human genome, considerably fewer than was expected. Genes account for less than 2% of the total, the remainder being non-coding DNA. Current research indicates that most of the non-coding DNA has a biological function, including regulating gene expression.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 secondsAbout 8% of the genome consists of what is termed repetitive DNA sequences, which are head-to-tail or tandem repeats of nucleotide sequences. More than 10,000 have been identified, each being characterised by the identity and number of nucleotides in the base unit of the sequence. Their value as a forensic marker arise because some have alleles that code for variation in the number of repeats of that sequence. It is these tandem repeats that are the basis of most of today's DNA testing, specifically Short Tandem Repeats, or STRs, also called microsatellites. The STRs used in forensic identification are mostly sequences that are four bases long, called tetranucleotides. The alleles consisting of the sequence repeated 3 to 25 times. Not all are tetranucleotides.

Skip to 1 minute and 54 secondsAnd some of the ones in common use have an allele range of up to 42. The first recorded case where DNA was used is that of Colin Pitchfork in England in 1987. Police investigating the related rape and murder of two 15-year-old girls in Leicestershire in England contacted Dr. Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester for assistance. They requested that he applied his newly discovered DNA profiling method to the analysis of the semen on the vaginal swabs from the victims and compare the results with samples given voluntarily by 5,000 men living in the surrounding areas. Eventually, a match was obtained to Pitchfork, who was subsequently convicted of the offences. Dr. Jeffreys did not use STR analysis.

Skip to 2 minutes and 47 secondsIt was not available at that time. The technique that he used, and which launched forensic DNA analysis, differed in two significant respects. The target stretches of DNA that he used, called minisatellites, were much longer than the STR microsatellites. And the technique employed to identify the size variations, called Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism, or RFLP, was more cumbersome and lengthy. The tool that made forensic STR analysis possible is the Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR. Around the same time that Alec Jeffreys was working with minisatellites, a number of other researchers were working with the enzyme DNA polymerase, which will synthesise DNA in cells by copying the base sequence of a template DNA strand. Kary Mullis was one of them.

Skip to 3 minutes and 42 secondsAnd in 1983, he realised that a pair of primers could be used to bracket a target DNA sequence which could then be copied using DNA polymerase. He published the work in a joint paper with colleagues in 1986. Mullis was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993 for his work along with Michael Smith. Although as with so many discoveries, including the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine awarded to Crick, Watson, and Maurice Wilkins, there were many others whose earlier or contemporaneous contributions are noteworthy. The amount of DNA in even a very large bloodstain is far too small to permit direct analysis of the STRs in it. And that's where PCR comes in.

Skip to 4 minutes and 31 secondsThe process targets a specific STR in the DNA molecule and then amplifies it by more than a million times. In this way, the tiniest of blood or semen stains can be typed. Most forensic laboratories use between 10 and 20 different STRs to build a DNA profile. The names, structure of the core sequence, and the allele ranges for some STRs can be seen in the table. You will see that there are two different types of name. THO1 is associated with the tyrosine hydroxylase located on chromosome 11. And TPOX is associated with the thyroid peroxidase gene on chromosome 2.

Skip to 5 minutes and 16 secondsThe others in the table follow a standard naming convention, where D1 signifies a location on chromosome 1, D13 on chromosome 13, and D16 on chromosome 16. And the S designation refers to the sequence on the chromosome where the allele is located. Each of the STRs used in forensic profiling is located on a different chromosome from any of the others. As we shall see, this allows the frequency in the population of the various allele combinations to be calculated.

DNA - an introduction part 1

Previously we suggested that the level of knowledge of the basic sciences that are the basis of forensic biology will probably vary considerably across our participants.

The same applies to the material on DNA. However, it is more complex than the blood basics and we encourage you to be an active learning community here, and use the discussion board for Q&A sessions on DNA, where those in the ‘know’ can help those who may find the material more complicated. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!!!

Forensic DNA is all about ‘Who?’ and the video begins with a discussion of what we mean by identity and how genetics makes us individual. Make sure that you have viewed and understood the content of the YouTube videos in the DNA basics and glossary section on the previous step. You might need to review these videos a number of times to help your understanding.

Finally, there is a PDF ‘Forensic DNA summary-the main points’ in the ‘see also’ resource section at the bottom of the page which provides the key points that you should know about the subject on completion of this week.

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This video is from the free online course:

Introduction to Forensic Science

University of Strathclyde