Fascinating discoveries made through DNA testing

13.11.2017
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DNA, the molecule of inheritance, carries a set of instructions and is thought to be the most ground-breaking scientific discovery of our time. But what exactly have we learnt from DNA testing?

Basic principles of genetics

The first person to write a paper on the way characteristics are passed down through generations was an unknown Augutinian monk. While today, he is considered by many the father of genetics, at the time it took three decades for this paper to the taken seriously.

Between 1856 and 1863, Gregor Mendel conducted experiments on pea plants and attempted to crossbreed. He discovered when a yellow pea plant and a green pea plant were bred together, each time their offspring was yellow. However, this plants offspring were often green, in a ratio of 3:1. From this, Mendel coined the terms ‘recessive’ and ‘dominant’traits, calling the green trait in this example recessive and the yellow trait dominant.

The first time DNA was used in a criminal investigation

The very first time DNA was used to aid a criminal investigating was in 1986 by molecular biologist Professor Jeffreys. Using DNA fingerpritining techniques, Jeffreys was able to link semen samples collected from two rape-murders in the midlands of England. He used DNA to verify the confession of a 17-year-old boy and prove he was not in fact the murderer. The attacker, Colin Pitchfork, was linked to both crimes and eventually caught using DNA testing.

The technique used today is a development of this original method because although the original method used by Professor Jeffreys was accurate, it required a large amount of high quality DNA. The techniques used today were developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Ancient mysteries solved

Today, DNA testing is still solving countless ancient mysteries. One famous example is the discovery of Richard III’s body buried under a parking lot in Leicester. His remains showed battle wounds and scoliosis, suggesting the body could be the king’s who died in battle in 1485 and was thought to have had scoliosis, a condition that causes curvature of the spine. However, scientists couldn’t say for certain who’s body it was until DNA was extracted from the bones. This DNA was matched to Michael Ibsen, a direct descendant of the king’s sister. This amazing discovery was made possible because if stored in a cold, dry and dark place, DNA can last for thousands of years.

Better understanding of inherited diseases

Before scientists understood DNA, inherited diseases remained a mystery to them. It wasn’t until 1902 that Sir Archibald Edward Garrod linked inheritance and disease. Many genetic diseases are still incurable, but increased understanding means we can predict them and we are one step closer to successfully treating them and finding a cure.

Reunited families

Paternity testing can now determine if a man is the father of a child beyond reasonable doubt. Countless people have now been reunited with their fathers as well as other family members. DNA testing now plays an important role in legal proceedings, especially in relation to child custody cases.

Article last time updated on 14.11.2017.

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