Dna Essay Research Paper Only a smallfraction

Dna Essay, Research Paper

Only a small

fraction of our total DNA makes us different

from gorillas, chimpanzees and other primates.

An even smaller fraction makes one person

different from the next. It’s these differences

that forensic DNA experts use to identify

people and determine the source of biological

evidence such as blood or semen found at a

crime scene.

DNA testing is powerful, sensitive and effective

in pointing to the guilty and absolving the innocent. To date, 67 convicted

felons have been exonerated nationwide based on DNA evidence. The vast

majority of those have been rape cases.

But DNA testing as it is now performed raises a question as to whether the

public should fear that an innocent person may be wrongfully convicted or a

legitimate suspect excluded from consideration.

Should we be concerned that the government can order the collection of

one’s DNA for purposes of identification, much like a set of fingerprints?

DNA contains much more personal information than a fingerprint.

Recognizing the importance of DNA, our government sponsored the Human

Genome Project in 1990 to determine the sequence of DNA sub-units within

each of our 46 chromosomes. The complete sequence will be deciphered

within the next few years. With this information, there will be dramatic

advances in many medically related areas, giving doctors the ability to

predict illness, make better diagnoses and perform gene therapy to correct

sometimes deadly genetic defects.

DNA online

With the development of specialized

machines, it is now relatively easy to

make millions of copies of any gene and

determine its sequence. With the same

equipment, we can determine the

genetic composition of anyone who

becomes a suspect in a crime. This

information can be incorporated into a

local, state or national database for

future use.

In 1998, the FBI laboratory brought its National DNA Index System online.

DNA profiles from convicted offenders and crime scene evidence submitted

by forensic labs are combined into a single national database. As a result,

DNA evidence found at a crime scene in New York can be used to identify a

suspect in Virginia if a matching profile is found.

New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir has proposed that all

those convicted of any crime be required to submit a specimen of their cells

for analysis and that their DNA profiles become part of the state’s database.

The city’s mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, has gone even further and endorsed the

idea of collecting DNA samples from everyone at birth. Both say the benefits

associated with increased testing are well worth the cost to the taxpayer.

But do we have anything to fear from universal DNA testing? Many argue

that the innocent certainly have nothing to worry about.

The perfect science?

Forensic DNA analysis is held in such high

esteem that it has developed a reputation of

infallibility. But is it really the perfect science or

can analysts make mistakes? A mistake could

cost a suspect his liberty or even his life.

This almost happened in England, where a

DNA test matched an innocent man to a burglary crime scene. Based on a

test using six genes, he was deemed the likely source of the crime scene

evidence. He matched the evidentiary profile perfectly. But in a more

rigorous 10-gene analysis, conducted because he presented a very strong

alibi, he was excluded as a suspect.

Britain’s DNA database is the largest in the world, consisting of almost

700,000 profiles. When it comes to criminal matters, civil liberties in Britain

are apparently less of a concern than they are in the United States. Most

English subjects tend to volunteer specimens when police ask them to do


As with any medical procedure, one must weigh the benefits of DNA testing

against any potential downside.

There are clearly a number of ethical and legal issues that must be

addressed. How can we be sure that someone won’t gain access to your

genetic profile and sell it to a prospective employer or insurance company?

It’s a frightening thought, but political candidates may one day find

themselves compelled to provide samples of their DNA. Genetic profiles

could then influence the way people vote.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Everything we are is in our DNA — personality, behavioral traits, intelligence,

the likelihood of developing a disease. In other words, the good, the bad and

the ugly.

To avoid the potential for abuse, the government should just retrieve

identifying information from the samples and destroy the rest.

I believe that while there are no easy answers, DNA testing is extremely

valuable as a crime-fighting tool — as long as safeguards are in place to

prevent abuse and ensure that genetic information doesn’t fall into the wrong


We all want to see an end to violent crime, but at what cost? Should we

take samples from all those arrested regardless of how serious the charge?

Should we test everyone at birth? Should we be concerned that

governmental police agencies may soon possess our total genetic

blueprint? With the phenomenon of computer hacking that now confronts us,

should we worry about database security? What do you think?

Lawrence Kobilinsky, Ph.D., is a professor of forensic science and associate provost at John

Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is an internationally recognized expert in

the areas of serology and DNA analysis and serves as a consultant to the U.S. State



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improve its use as a tool of investigation and adjudication in criminal cases.

The Commission will address issues in five specific areas: (1) the use of DNA in

post-conviction relief cases?view published report, (2) legal concerns including

Daubert challenges and the scope of discovery in DNA cases, (3) criteria for

training and technical assistance for criminal justice professionals involved in the

identification, collection and preservation of DNA evidence at the crime

scene?view published pamphlet, (4) essential laboratory capabilities in the face of

emerging technologies, and (5) the impact of future technological developments on

the use of DNA in the criminal justice system. Each topic will be the focus of

in-depth analysis by separate working groups comprised of prominent professionals

who will report back to the Commission.



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