National DNA Day is celebrated on April 25 each year and commemorates two of the biggest scientific milestones – the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953, and the successful completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003.
Looking at the historical timeline of DNA, the landmark discovery of James Watson, Francis Crick and colleagues was based on foundations previously laid down by several other scientists. Although Friedrich Miescher identified nuclein, or what we know today as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1869, its significant role in genetic inheritance was not established until the early 1940s by Oswald Avery. This groundwork helped pave the way for Watson and Crick’s milestone discovery – the three-dimensional, double helical structure of DNA. Their notable research was published in Nature in April 1953 and earned them the Nobel Prize in 1962.1
It was several decades later that The Human Genome Project was formally launched. In 1990, the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) joined hands with international partners in a quest to sequence all three billion base pairs in the human genome.2 This project was expected to be completed in 15 years. However, with major advances in technology and concerted effort, they were able to complete the project two years ahead of schedule. Last year marked the 15th anniversary of the Human Genome Project!
Where does QIAGEN fit in?
QIAGEN was founded in 1984 and revolutionized the molecular biology industry by introducing the first “Plasmid-Kit” in 1986. This kit was used to purify plasmids (a segment of DNA independent of chromosomal DNA that is capable of replication) in a matter of hours rather than days and introduced the “little blue box” we are all so familiar with today. Nearly a decade later, their first automated purification bench-top workstation, the BioRobot 9600 was introduced, thus setting the groundwork for our popular EZ1 Advanced XL. QIAGEN is continually developing more robust methods for DNA-based forensic analyses, from Sample to Insight.
The changing face of DNA-based human identification
While humans are 99.9% identical in their genetic make-up, scientists need only a small fraction of the remaining 0.1% to tell us apart. In particular, short, repetitive sequences of non-coding DNA called “short tandem repeats” (STRs) are employed as a method for human identification. 3
In the course of the last 20+ years, more and more forensic labs have started utilizing STRs for human identification, and it has now become the mainstay of forensic DNA testing. Learn how QIAGEN continues to refine the STR technology for human identification.
Whether it is associating a perpetrator to a crime, investigating mass or natural disasters, solving missing persons cases, performing paternity and kinship testing, or understanding human ancestry and origin, advances in the field of DNA analyses, including genomics, are allowing for more accurate and reliable human identification.
How do crime investigators use DNA analyses to match a suspect to a crime or to determine the identity of a person by their remains? How does it work behind the scientific scenes?
Find out the answers to these questions and more, here!
Five interesting facts about forensic DNA
– Colin Pitchfork was the first person brought to justice through DNA fingerprinting in 1986 in the UK.4
– In 1995, the world’s first national DNA database was established in the UK.5
– Detroit Police Crime Laboratory published the first article using QIAGEN’s QIAamp spin columns for forensic casework in 1998.6
– DNA has helped solve cold cases over 50 years after the crime!7
– The National DNA Index System in the United States now contains information from over 16 million people and has been used to aid in over 440,000 investigations.8
Happy National DNA Day!
- 1. Pray, L. (2008) Discovery of DNA structure and function: Watson and Crick. Nature Education 1(1):100
2. Human Genome Project NIH Fact Sheets (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2018, from https://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=45&key=H#H
3. FAQ About Genetic and Genomic Science. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2018, from https://www.genome.gov/19016904/faq-about-genetic-and-genomic-science/
4. Colin Pitchfork (n.d.) Retrieved March 20, 2018, from http://aboutforensics.co.uk/colin-pitchfork/
5. Wallace, H.M. (2014) Forensic DNA databases–Ethical and legal standards: A global review. Egyptian Journal of Forensic Sciences4 (3):57-63
6. Greenspoon, S.A. (1998) QIAamp spin columns as a method of DNA isolation for forensic casework. Journal of Forensic Sciences. 43(5):1024-30.
7. Solving Cold Cases with DNA: The Boston Strangler Case (2014) Retrieved March 20, 2018, from https://www.nij.gov/journals/273/pages/boston-strangler.aspx
8. CODIS – NDIS Statistics as of January 2019
About the authors
Angela Cacioppo, MPS
Angela joined QIAGEN in 2017. She received her Master’s Degree in Forensic Science (biology track) from Pennsylvania State University. Before joining QIAGEN, Angela worked at The Bode Technology Group (a.k.a Bode Cellmark Forensics) as a DNA analyst, where she processed thousands of DNA samples and traveled the United States to testify as an expert witness. Afterwards, she joined LGC, where she was involved in the rollout and deployment of new and innovated technology, ParaDNA Systems, that facilitates the screening and triage of DNA samples.
Kurchi Bhattacharya, Ph.D.
Kurchi Bhattacharya, Ph.D. is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at QIAGEN, and is responsible for creating compelling content for multichannel marketing campaigns, product launches, and events, with a particular focus on human ID and forensics. Before joining QIAGEN in 2016, she has had a pan-continental scientific research experience during her undergraduate and graduate studies. In 2015, she received her Ph.D. from the University of Cologne, Germany, specializing in molecular biology and biochemistry. After that, Kurchi continued working as a postdoctoral researcher at the same university and in parallel started acquiring skills in the field of science communication.