Figure 8-41. How PCR is used in forensic science.

Figure 8-41How PCR is used in forensic science

(A) The DNA sequences that create the variability used in this analysis contain runs of short, repeated sequences, such as CACACA . . . , which are found in various positions (loci) in the human genome. The number of repeats in each run can be highly variable in the population, ranging from 4 to 40 in different individuals. A run of repeated nucleotides of this type is commonly referred to as a hypervariable microsatellite sequence—also known as a VNTR (variable number of tandem repeat) sequence. Because of the variability in these sequences at each locus, individuals usually inherit a different variant from their mother and from their father; two unrelated individuals therefore do not usually contain the same pair of sequences. A PCR analysis using primers that bracket the locus produces a pair of bands of amplified DNA from each individual, one band representing the maternal variant and the other representing the paternal variant. The length of the amplified DNA, and thus the position of the band it produces after electrophoresis, depends on the exact number of repeats at the locus. (B) In the schematic example shown here, the same three VNTR loci are analyzed (requiring three different pairs of specially selected oligonucleotide primers) from three suspects (individuals A, B, and C), producing six DNA bands for each person after polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Although some individuals have several bands in common, the overall pattern is quite distinctive for each. The band pattern can therefore serve as a “fingerprint” to identify an individual nearly uniquely. The fourth lane (F) contains the products of the same reactions carried out on a forensic sample. The starting material for such a PCR can be a single hair or a tiny sample of blood that was left at the crime scene. When examining the variability at 5 to 10 different VNTR loci, the odds that two random individuals would share the same genetic pattern by chance can be approximately one in 10 billion. In the case shown here, individuals A and C can be eliminated from further enquiries, whereas individual B remains a clear suspect for committing the crime. A similar approach is now routinely used for paternity testing.

From: Isolating, Cloning, and Sequencing DNA

Cover of Molecular Biology of the Cell
Molecular Biology of the Cell. 4th edition.
Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, et al.
New York: Garland Science; 2002.
Copyright © 2002, Bruce Alberts, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, and Peter Walter; Copyright © 1983, 1989, 1994, Bruce Alberts, Dennis Bray, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts, and James D. Watson .

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