DNA profiling (also called DNA testing, DNA typing, or genetic fingerprinting) is a technique employed by forensic scientists to assist in the identification of individuals on the basis of their respective DNA profiles. DNA profiles are encrypted sets of numbers that reflect a person's DNA makeup, which can also be used as the person's identifier. DNA profiling should not be confused with full genome sequencing. It is used in, for example, parental testing and rape investigation.
Although 99.9% of human DNA sequences are the same in every person, enough of the DNA is different to distinguish one individual from another. DNA profiling uses repetitive ("repeat") sequences that are highly variable called variable number tandem repeats (VNTR). VNTRs loci are very similar between closely related humans, but so variable that unrelated individuals are extremely unlikely to have the same VNTRs.
The DNA profiling technique was first reported in 1984by Sir Alec Jeffreys at the University of Leicester in England, and is now the basis of several national DNA databases. Dr. Jeffreys's genetic fingerprinting was made commercially available in 1987, when a chemical company, ICI, started a blood-testing center in England.
DNA profiling process
The process begins with a sample of an individual's DNA (typically called a "reference sample"). The most desirable method of collecting a reference sample is the use of a buccal swab, as this reduces the possibility of contamination. When this is not available (e.g. because a court order may be needed and not obtainable) other methods may need to be used to collect a sample of blood, saliva, semen, or other appropriate fluid or tissue from personal items (e.g. toothbrush, razor, etc.) or from stored samples (e.g. banked sperm or biopsy tissue). Samples obtained from blood relatives (biological relative) can provide an indication of an individual's profile, as could human remains which had been previously profiled. A reference sample is then analyzed to create the individual's DNA profile using one of a number of techniques, discussed below. The DNA profile is then compared against another sample to determine whether there is a genetic match. * RFLP analysis
The first methods for finding out genetics used for DNA profiling involved restriction enzyme digestion, followed by Southern blot analysis. Although polymorphisms can exist in the restriction enzyme cleavage sites, more commonly the enzymes and DNA probes were used to analyze VNTR loci. However, the Southern blot technique is laborious, and requires large amounts of undegraded sample DNA. Also, Karl Brown's original technique looked at many minisatellite loci at the same time, increasing the observed variability, but making it hard to discern individual alleles (and thereby precluding parental testing). These early techniques have been supplanted by PCR-based assays. * PCR analysis
With the invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, DNA profiling took huge strides forward in both discriminating power and the ability to recover information from very small (or degraded) starting samples. PCR greatly amplifies the amounts of a specific region of DNA, using oligonucleotide primers and a thermostable DNA polymerase. Early assays such as the HLA-DQ alpha reverse dot blot strips grew to be very popular due to their ease of use, and the speed with which a result could be obtained. However they were not as discriminating as RFLP. It was also difficult to determine a DNA profile for mixed samples, such as a vaginal swab from a sexual assault victim. Fortunately, the PCR method is readily adaptable for analyzing VNTR loci. In the United States the FBI has standardized a set of 13 VNTR assays for DNA typing, and has organized the CODIS database for forensic identification in criminal cases. Similar assays and databases have been set up in other countries. Also,...