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DNA in Forensics and Paternity

DNA in Forensics and Paternity

The genetic material for all living things is a polymer of four different molecules, which are themselves a combination of three subunits. The genetic information, the code for developing an organism, is contained in the specific sequence of the four molecules, similar to the way the letters of the alphabet can be sequenced to form words that convey information. The information in a DNA sequence is used to form two other types of polymers, one of which are proteins. The proteins interact to form a specific type of organism with individual characteristics.

A genetic molecule is called DNA, which stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. The four molecules that make up DNA are called nucleotides. Each nucleotide consists of a single- or double-ringed molecule containing nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen called a nitrogenous base. Each base is bonded to a five-carbon sugar called deoxyribose. The sugar is in turn bonded to a phosphate group \(({\text{−PO}}_{4}{}^{\text{3−}})\)

When new DNA is made, a polymerization reaction occurs that binds the phosphate group of one nucleotide to the sugar group of a second nucleotide. The nitrogenous bases of each nucleotide stick out from this sugar-phosphate backbone. DNA is actually formed from two such polymers coiled around each other and held together by hydrogen bonds between the nitrogenous bases. Thus, the two backbones are on the outside of the coiled pair of strands, and the bases are on the inside. The shape of the two strands wound around each other is called a double helix (see the figure below).

It probably makes sense that the sequence of nucleotides in the DNA of a cat differs from those of a dog. But it is also true that the sequences of the DNA in the cells of two individual pugs differ. Likewise, the sequences of DNA in you and a sibling differ (unless your sibling is an identical twin), as do those between you and an unrelated individual. However, the DNA sequences of two related individuals are more similar than the sequences of two unrelated individuals, and these similarities in sequence can be observed in various ways. This is the principle behind DNA fingerprinting, which is a method used to determine whether two DNA samples came from related (or the same) individuals or unrelated individuals.

Diagram a shows DNA as a double helix composed of the nitrogenous bases adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine paired up along a sugar-phosphate backbone. The helix has labeled 3 prime and 5 prime directions or ends. In diagram b, the molecular level arrangement of the bases connected by hydrogen bonding within the sugar-phosphate backbone is shown. Adenine is shown with hydrogen bonding to thymine and similarly the linkage via hydrogen bonding between cytosine and guanine is shown. Again, 3 prime and 5 prime directional information is provided. In diagram c, the bonding between a nitrogenous base, sugar, and phosphate is shown.

DNA is an organic molecule and the genetic material for all living organisms. (a) DNA is a double helix consisting of two single DNA strands hydrogen bonded together at each nitrogenous base. (b) This detail shows the hydrogen bonding (dotted lines) between nitrogenous bases on each DNA strand and the way in which each nucleotide is joined to the next, forming a backbone of sugars and phosphate groups along each strand. (c) This detail shows the structure of one of the four nucleotides that makes up the DNA polymer. Each nucleotide consists of a nitrogenous base (a double-ring molecule, in this case), a five-carbon sugar (deoxyribose), and a phosphate group.

Using similarities in sequences, technicians can determine whether a man is the father of a child (the identity of the mother is rarely in doubt, except in the case of an adopted child and a potential birth mother). Likewise, forensic geneticists can determine whether a crime scene sample of human tissue, such as blood or skin cells, contains DNA that matches exactly the DNA of a suspect.

Resource:

Watch this video animation of how DNA is packaged for a visual lesson in its structure.

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