To those of us who are hooked to television drama series where crime and criminals are dealt with on a fairly regular basis, the term 'DNA testing' would surely not be alien. Even the soaps have made us familiar with DNA testing by constantly referring to paternity testing! We all know that criminals leave behind their DNA in hair samples, skin samples, spit, sweat, semen and a lot of other body excretions and that the genetic origins of an offspring can be determined by examining or testing the DNA of the parents. But how many of us know what it really means?
But before we delve deeper into what DNA testing really is, we need to understand more about DNA. DNA (or Dieoxyribo nucleic acid, as it is scientifically known) is the cellular material that contains the source code for all living things. The DNA is a long, string-like structure that determines the eye color, hair color, physical structure, height, bone density and several other traits. These traits are not restricted to human DNA alone. Animal and plant DNA also function in a similar way. Each strand of DNA therefore functions as a unique code that can help us track back to the unique individual who created it.
This is where DNA testing has become an invaluable tool for forensics experts and crime prevention professionals. Because each strand of DNA is unique and could have come from only one person in the entire universe, DNA testing is viewed as one of the most foolproof ways to tie-in a suspect with a crime scene. Most courts in most parts of the world use DNA testing results as the final say in matters concerning crimes. In the initial days of the DNA testing technology, the process was lesser understood, long and prohibitively expensive. However, the advances made in clinical oncology, the comprehensive understanding of the DNA structure after having unraveled the DNA in the Genome project and the relative affordability of DNA testing, have made its use more widespread.
Today, several other branches of science (apart from crime and criminal related) use DNA testing tools and techniques for a variety of applications. Paternity tests are one of the most commonly used applications of DNA testing. This is the use of DNA testing in cases where the parent or parents may want to verify the genetic traits of the child, or even to verify if the child is their at all! Each year, there are scores of allegations against celebrities, rock stars and even political figures, o their having fathered a child. These claims are easily verifiable through the use of DNA testing technology to establish paternity.
Finding lost family members has also become possible due to the growth and development of the DNA testing technology. Now claims from long lost brothers, siblings or cousins can easily be verified. DNA testing is also finding newer and novel uses in the defense arena, where the victims of genocide and or strife can be identified even with the absence of any appreciable body parts. The truth has always been out there, but with DNA testing, it can become a verified fact!
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