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DNA Fingerprinting

Historical Uses Of Genetic Fingerprinting

Jeffreys was first given the opportunity to demonstrate the power of DNA fingerprinting in March of 1985 when he proved a boy was the son of a British citizen and should be allowed to enter the country. In 1986, DNA was first used in forensics. In a village near Jeffreys' home, a teenage girl was assaulted and strangled. No suspect was found, although body fluids were recovered at the crime scene. When another girl was strangled in the same way, a 19-year-old caterer confessed to one murder but not the other. DNA analysis showed that the same person committed both murders, and the caterer had falsely confessed. Blood samples of 4,582 village men were taken, and eventually the killer was revealed when he attempted to bribe someone to take the test for him.

The first case to be tried in the United States using DNA fingerprinting evidence was of African-American Tommie Lee Edwards. In November 1987, a judge did not permit population genetics statistics that compared Edwards to a representative population. The judge feared the jury would be overwhelmed by the technical information. The trial ended in a mistrial. Three months later, Andrews was on trial for the assault of another woman. This time the judge did permit the evidence of population genetics statistics. The prosecutor showed that the probability that the chance that Edwards' DNA would not match the crime evidence was one in 10 billion. Edwards was convicted.

DNA fingerprinting has been used repeatedly to identify human remains. In Cardiff, Wales, skeletal remains of a young woman were found, and a medical artist was able to make a model of the girl's face. She was recognized by a social worker as a local run-away. Comparing the DNA of the femur of the girl with samples from the presumptive parents, Jeffreys declared a match between the identified girl and her parents. In Brazil, Wolfgang Gerhard, who had drowned in a boating accident, was accused of being the notorious Nazi of Auschwitz, Josef Mengele. Disinterring the bones, Jeffreys and his team used DNA fingerprinting to conclude that the man actually was the missing Mengele.

In addition to forensics, Genetic fingerprinting has been used to unite families. In 1976, a military junta in a South American country killed over 9,000 people, and the orphaned children were given to military couples. After the regime was overthrown in 1983, Las Abuelas (The Grandmothers) determined to bring these children to their biological families. Using DNA fingerprinting, they found the families of over 200 children.

DNA has been used to solve several historical mysteries. On July 16, 1918, the czar of Russia and his family were shot, doused with sulfuric acid, and buried in a mass grave. In 1989, the site of burial was uncovered, and bone fragments of nine skeletons were assembled. Genetic fingerprinting experts from all over the world pieced together the puzzle that ended in a proper burial to the Romanov royal family in Saint Petersburg in 1998.



Griffiths, A., et al. Introduction to Genetic Analysis. 7th ed. New York: W.H. Freeman and Co., 2000.

Jorde, L.B., J. C. Carey, M. J. Bamshad, and R. L. White. Medical Genetics. 2nd ed. Mosby-Year Book, Inc., 2000.

Klug, W., and M. Cummings. Concepts of Genetics. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Watson, J.D., et al. Molecular Biology of the Gene. 4th ed. Menlo Park, CA: The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Company, Inc., 1987.


The University of Washington. "Basics of DNA fingerprinting." [cited March 4, 2003] <http://www.biology.washington.edu/fingerprint/dnaintro.html>.

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