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image European Research News Centre > Research and Society > The Law and DNA
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image image image Date published: 11/07/2001
  image The Law and DNA
RTD info 30
  Access to biological identity makes it easier to solve complex judicial inquiries. But before a reliable international exchange of genetic data is possible, the methods of analysis must be standardised. Which is precisely the aim of a network of European institutes.

'About 150 laboratories carry out genetic tests in Europe. But due to the absence of a single analysis protocol, they do not all examine the same parts of the genome to obtain a genetic fingerprint,' explains Angel Carracedo of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Santiago de Compostela (ES). It is generally the microsatellites - repetitions of mini-sequences of base pairs of different sizes - that are studied to draw up a biological identity card, or other kinds of identifying markers, such as genetic polymorphisms. The large number of potential markers does not make standardisation any easier.

In 1997, nearly 20 partners from 17 countries(1) joined the Stadnap (Standardisation of DNA profiling) project with the aim of standardising the identification methods. The first step was the somewhat daunting task of recording and evaluating the many markers and analysis protocols used. A limited list of reliable markers and methods was then drawn up to permit reproducible and explicit results. Exchanges of personnel between the various laboratories were also organised as a means of stimulating the transfer of technology and of studying the databases of the markers used.

Different sources of DNA

'A particular effort was made to analyse the genetic markers situated on the Y chromosome which is specific to the male genome. This is very useful for studying the cell mixes and helping to solve certain cases of sexual aggression,' continues Angel Carracedo.

Apart from the markers present on the DNA of chromosomes, the researchers also studied the DNA of mitichondria (the energy sources of cells) which have the advantage of being easily identifiable in a sample of poor quality. The genetic fingerprints taken from the mitichondrial DNA are, however, rather difficult to work with and interpret. When used for identification purposes they therefore need to be processed in accordance with strict standards.

New genetic markers - such as DNA chips - and new methods of analysis are constantly being developed, making continuous standardisation essential. European cooperation is all the more necessary as individual countries are compiling their own national records of genetic fingerprints which could form the core of a joint databank.

(1) AT, BE, CH, DE, DK, ES, FL, FR, GR, IR, IT, NL, NO, PT, SE, UK, USA.
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Angel Carracedo
Institute of Forensic Medicine, San Francisco,
15705 Santiago de Compostela - Spain
Fax: +34-981 580336

Internet sites

Stadnap project

Short Tandem Repeat Internet Database
Compilation of population studies published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), USA

The Distribution of the Human DNA-PCR Polymorphisms

The International Society for Forensic Genetics (ISFG)

Y-STR Haplotype Reference Database



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