Forensic science is more than just what you see on televisionand read in criminal novels. There are dozens of people who are involved in acriminal investigation and there’s a significant need for individuals withspecialized skills and training.
With so many sub-disciplines to choose from,the field of forensic science offers a virtually limitless number of career pathsto students who are interested in the mechanics of crime-solving.Onesuch developing field is Forensic Molecular Genetics. The first use of DNA in forensic science was toidentify the perpetrator of a murder in 1985, since then, forensic science haswitnessed dramatic changes in the field of human identification. Over the past25 years advances in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) technology have led tospectacularly precise forensic identification techniques.
Current work inforensic genetics is pushing these technologies even further. They includerecovery of extremely small amount of DNA and its amplification for its use inidentifying disaster victims, and analysis of extremely damaged DNA. RNA (ribonucleicacid) is also emerging as a potential genetic marker. Currently,millions of samples from blood, semen, hair and tissues etc are analyzed to determinetheir origin. Traditionally, forensic molecular genetics has been leaningtowards using human DNA in criminal investigation and in civil matters likepaternity disputes. But these days it presents a much broader utility range. Newtechniques like the analysis of non-human genetic materials such as from otheranimal species, plants and microorganisms are being assimilated to a greater extent, providingclinching evidence in cases such as animal attacks and their trafficking, biologicalwarfare, and identification of food adulterants, among many others. With the exception of monozygotic twins, every individualhas a different genome.
Forensic molecular genetics primarily uses DNA Fingerprintingfor the production of a unique DNA profile for every person. PCR enhances theprocess by helping in the amplification of minutest of DNA samples. Furtheradvancements include new DNA isolation methods, Y-chromosome haplogrouping (indicating”male” DNA in a mixed sample seen usually in sexual assault cases),mitochondrial DNA analysis (which is inherited along the same maternal line),analysis of SNPs in place of STRs for degraded samples obtained from disastersites, use of automated sequencers and DNA databases etc.
New genetic markersbeing tested include mRNA and miRNAs, as they are much smaller in size, thusless prone to degradation. Thus, relying on these methods pedigree analysis,determination of paternity/maternity, victim and suspect identification, andmost importantly exoneration of the innocent becomes highly accurate andensures justice for all.