DNA profiling or DNA fingerprinting is process of utilizing DNA to identify certain individuals. DNA is a unique biological map that points to a specific person and his or her close consanguinity. It is widely used in law enforcement today for the resolution of crimes and the identification of criminals, as well as in proving or disproving consanguinity claims.
However, DNA profiling is not all good as there are cons or disadvantages of this process. But before we take up the various pros and cons of DNA fingerprinting, we need to understand what it is and the various processes it requires.
The process of DNA fingerprinting involves gathering of samples. Scientists don’t need so many biological samples – only about 100 micrograms – to map the biological information of a specific individual. A smudge of saliva on a drinking straw is more than enough for DNA sampling.
The next step is amplifying telltale regions. Researchers use the very potent Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to make several copies of the sample’s telltale regions including Short Tandem Repeats (STRs), which varies from person to person.
After amplifying the STRs, scientists then start counting the repeats. This is done by attaching fluorescent dyes onto the STR copies, and then running the mixture of STRs through a capillary electrophoresis machine that sizes various DNA fragments. After knowing the size of the repeats, it becomes easier to identify the length of each STR and the number of repetitive units.
The final step in DNA profiling is looking for a match. A person whose STR repeats matches those of the sample at all 13 STR regions is at risk of conviction. But just how accurate and reliable DNA fingerprinting is in identifying criminals? Its margin of error is one in a billion.
List of Pros of DNA Fingerprinting
1. It is simple, less intrusive testing.
As mentioned before, a DNA sample is needed for mapping and matching. Since a mere sample of saliva is sufficient for the DNA fingerprinting process, it is less intrusive to the subject. As far as crime scenes are concerned, the suspect’s biological footprints even those rarely visible to the eye like smudges of blood, hair strand and saliva are enough to identify the person.
2. It can reduce innocent convictions.
DNA fingerprinting, when used properly and along with other forensic tools and evidence, can greatly reduce the number of innocent convictions. In a crime scene, forensics can collect and store samples for future reference, or directly match the samples with current data. This simplifies the identification of criminals and helps solve cases of yesteryears long forgotten and pushed to the far corner of the shelf.
3. It can help solve crimes and identity issues.
Even after decades have passed, DNA samples with forensic value can still be available and collected as evidence. DNA is a highly flexible and hardwearing molecule that does not denature easily, so authorities can still use DNA samples gathered from a very old crime scene. DNA fingerprinting is also very helpful in identifying cadavers during massive deaths, and in disproving or proving kinship of certain individuals.
List of Cons of DNA Fingerprinting
1. It can be a violation of one’s privacy.
Some people are wary about having their DNA information obtained, as this could violate their privacy. In some cases, authorities may force certain individuals, innocent and otherwise, to undergo DNA profiling as part of their data gathering. Aside from convicted criminals, the DNA database contains information on other innocents including asylum patients and juvenile delinquents. Once a person’s DNA is mapped and stored in the database, there is virtually no way of ever removing it.
2. It raises concerns over third-party access.
A number of businesses and organizations would want to have their hands upon a DNA database, including health care providers, insurance carriers, and maybe some employers. It can be a scary thing to know that a person’s DNA identity is available in black and white, and accessible to strangers. Employers with access to DNA database may use it to screen recruits and prejudicially refuse employment to those they think have genetic defects or anomalies.
3. It can be used the wrong way to convict innocents.
Since samples can be easily gathered from even mere hair strands and saliva, it is possible for authorities to obtain DNA profiles of totally innocent people who happen to be in the location prior to the crime. Extraneous DNA is likely to dilute the crime scene, particularly if it is obtained in a public place like a restroom or phone booth. DNA of innocents can also be purposely planted to pass the blame. The reliability of results depends largely on the laboratory, equipment and personnel involved in the process.
What Is The Verdict?
DNA profiling started in the 1980s when scientists discovered the similarity of variable number tandem repeats (VNTRs) in the hair strands of closely related individuals. Some seven years later, DNA fingerprinting became commercially available to identify criminals and to resolve past cases. Instead of looking at the VNTRs, commercialized DNA fingerprinting examines STRs.
Today, forensic investigation highly depends on DNA fingerprinting in identifying criminals. To understand this process and to weigh its pros and cons is therefore highly critical because its application could mean the life and death of an innocent person. Authorities should, therefore, preserve the crime scene as best they can so as not to contaminate or inundate DNA samples.
In addition, the public must be assured that the samples are carefully examined and handled by competent personnel using the most accurate and reliable equipment. Finally, the DNA database should not be used by third parties with malicious agendas.
Nevertheless, there really is no full guarantee that all these conditions are met. And the DNA database is growing every minute forensics gather DNA samples. It is all up to you whether DNA fingerprinting is advantageous or disadvantageous, and then figure out what to do to defend that stand.
Natalie Regoli, Esq. is the author of this post and the editor-in-chief of our blog. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington and her Masters in Law from The University of Texas School of Law. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Natalie has almost two decades of experience as a lawyer and banker. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.