Recently, eminent scientist and ‘father of DNA fingerprinting in India’ Lalji Singh died following a heart attack. Dr. Singh was one of the leaders instrumental in making DNA fingerprinting mainstream in India, both at the level of research as well as for forensic applications.
What is DNA fingerprinting?
-> DNA fingerprinting (or DNA Profiling) is a technique, for identification of an individual by examining their DNA.
-> DNA, or Deoxyribonucleic acid, is the basic building block of life. This component in cells contains all the information about an organism and it also helps transfer the characteristics to the next generation.
-> The DNA of each individual is composed of Bases [Adenine (A), Thymine (T), Guanine (G), and Cytosine (C)], Sugar and a Phosphate. Two bases link to each other using hydrogen bonds to form base pairs.
DNA fingerprinting can be done through – Blood, bones, hair with root, saliva, semen, teeth, and tissue.
How is DNA fingerprinting done?
-> The DNA is isolated from the available sample. Each type of sample has a specific protocol for isolation.
-> The DNA fragments are then multiplied using a reaction called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR).
-> One small DNA fragment can become a thousand to million copies.
-> This amplified DNA sample then undergoes a technique called gel electrophoresis, which splits it into different visible bands.
-> The band pattern formed by an individual’s DNA is unique. The bands of two or more DNA samples can then be compared using software.
-> The most important step in the process of DNA fingerprinting is the fragmenting of DNA with restriction enzymes.
Uses of DNA Fingerprinting:
-> DNA testing can help solve crimes by comparing the DNA profiles of suspects to offenders samples. For example, Bollywood actor Shiney Ahuja rape case, Identification of suicide bomber in Rajiv Gandhi murder. From 1995’s Naina Sahni murder case to modern-day incidents of terrorism such as the 2013 Hyderabad blasts, DNA fingerprinting has not only come of age, but is also being increasingly used for crime investigations and prosecutions.
-> DNA fingerprinting is a way to establish unique identity as every individual has unique pattern of DNA.
-> To resolve disputes of maternity /paternity and in cases of exchange of babies in hospital wards.
-> The uniqueness and accuracy of DNA fingerprinting makes it a great tool of investigation.
-> In forensic wildlife (The arrangement of the nucleotides is unique to any living form (except identical twins) be animals, plants, or microbes).
Challenges in the use of DNA fingerprinting:
-> Picking up DNA samples from a crime scene with sterile tools and storing samples in a proper manner are crucial for the evidence to stand a judicial test. And this is where India’s police forces have a lot of catching up to do with counterparts overseas. The Aarushi Talwar murder case of 2008 is a prime example.
-> Challenge from unregulated labs which offer delay, false reports of DNA.
-> There is also a serious paucity of capacity for DNA fingerprinting in the country. While several states have their own forensic labs, DNA fingerprinting is available only at a few places — Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chandigarh.
Are there any laws in India regarding DNA fingerprinting?
-> In July, 2017 the law commission of India drafted a Bill for the use and regulation of DNA-based technology called the Human DNA Profiling Bill.
-> As there are currently no legal mechanisms for identifying missing persons and victims of disasters, the new Bill seeks to regulate human DNA profiling and establish standard procedures for DNA testing.
What needs to be done?
-> Proper training of state police personnel for protecting and collecting DNA samples during crime investigation.
-> Government should develop infrastructure bases for DNA fingerprinting for example, upgradation of forensic labs etc.
-> A comprehensive law for the use and regulation of DNA-based technology.
India has a long way to go to fully benefit from this technology. Though the central agencies are well aware about the best practices, the state police and other agencies are yet to catch up with the global standards.
At the same time, it is the need of the hour to increase the funding so that state of the art DNA fingerprinting laboratories can be set up across the country.