DNA Fingerprinting: Three Innovative Uses

Sir Alec Jeffreys was the scientist who invented DNA fingerprinting. It is a versatile technology with many applications including identifying harmful bacteria, studying historic patterns of migration, fighting fraud, and parentage testing. In fact its first ever use was to solve an immigration dispute between a Ghanaian family and the British government. Here are three further innovative applications of DNA fingerprinting technology.

Josef Mengele

DNA fingerprinting was employed to identify the skeletal remains of Dr Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who performed experiments on hundreds of thousands of victims of Nazi oppression. He was known as the ‘Angel of Death’ by prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. When WW11 ended he was caught by the Allies, but eventually freed (his captors did not know who he really was) and ultimately he became one of the world’s most wanted war criminals. In 1990 Alec Jeffreys was asked to help with the examination of the bones of a man who had drowned in 1979, and had been buried in Sau Paulo in Brazil. DNA was extracted and compared with DNA from Mengele’s wife and son who were living in Germany. A 99.9 per cent match was returned, which confirmed that the bones did indeed belong to Mengele.

Russian Royals and DNA

When the remains of several bodies were found in two graves near the Russian city of Yekaterinburg it was thought that they might belong to the Romanovs, Russia’s last royal family. They were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, but the whereabouts of their bodies had remained a mystery. Confirmation came through DNA analysis of the bones. Samples were taken and compared with living members of the Romanovs. DNA testing also solved the mystery of Anna Anderson who during her life had claimed to be Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the Tsar, and his wife.

DNA Fingerprinting and Super Bowl

NFL employed DNA fingerprinting technology for all Super Bowl XXXIV footballs. They created a synthetic DNA barcode for a unique identification system. The aim was to combat counterfeiting so that buyers could be sure that they had purchased the real thing.

DNA fingerprinting works because of the unique ordering of the bases that make up each DNA strand.