Invention of the Month: DNA Advancements Through the Decades

By: Eliana Teichman  |  September 20, 2021
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By Eliana Teichman

The events that took place on September 11, 2001 were not only devastating but resulted in a change of perspective in many United States citizens in a variety of ways. Technological advancements, security checkpoints and major scientific strides are of the few but significant impacts that this tragic day holds. 9/11 is a day that so many look at with grief and unanswered questions. The mysteries of the unidentified Twin Tower victims greatly affect those they were closest to still two decades later. Without closure or answers, loved ones have turned to science for a saving-grace. Over eleven-hundred victims have yet to be identified but the search through science perseveres. 

DNA testing was originally popularized in the 1980s as a method to identify specific individuals, thereby revolutionizing criminal investigations. The process of DNA testing is achieved by analyzing the patterns of a genome containing chromosomes with unique markers that vary from person to person. With the help of forensic scientists, DNA is extracted from cells in blood as well as other fluids and tissue. The DNA within each cell is filled with countless bases arranged in specific patterns. 

The technique in using these individual patterns to match them to a person has advanced in regards to the method and speed of body identification. Initially the method of profiling was by taking segments containing hundreds of bases which took weeks to analyze using the gel electrophoresis technique. Years later, the method was altered through the use of STRs, short tandem repeats, which require a shorter DNA sequence. The contemporary technique is through capillary electrophoresis, an instrument which allows for the analysis of smaller fragments to occur swiftly through an automated system. In addition, PCRs, polymerase chain reactions, are used to amplify the DNA in order that it can be identified with ease. Throughout the years and progression of science, DNA profiles can be obtained through a significantly smaller DNA sample size. These newfound scientific improvements have allowed for the profiling of victims and criminals in a process that was once impossible. 

DNA profiling has also advanced around the globe. For instance, Israel has used these scientific improvements in a multitude of ways. The Israel volunteer organization, ZAKA, is a unit that identifies the deceased and honors the dead in accordance to Jewish law. ZAKA volunteers use top tier technology to identify Jewish body parts all while avoiding halachic issues. “ZAKA Search and Rescue provides a rapid response to mass casualty disasters. It has saved thousands of lives—and honored those who couldn’t be saved with dignity in death.” The global scientific innovations in countries such as Israel have not only opened doors for future scientific exploration but have been an emotional cornerstone to the Jewish people. 

Countless organizations and scientific operations make the use of DNA profiling advancements widely attainable. Historic events such as 9/11 are still being researched in hopes of discovering victims who have yet to be identified. Contemporary technology has allowed for two of the Twin Tower victims to have been successfully identified through bone fragments collected from the rubble. The flourishing scientific community makes it possible for profiling through the tiniest of DNA samples. In addition, organizations such as ZAKA continue to induce positive change throughout the world by saving lives and connecting people to their deceased loved ones. The ongoing DNA advancements have not only allowed for continuous worldwide scientific impacts but have touched upon so many individuals throughout the decades. 

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Sources: 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/06/nyregion/9-11-ground-zero-victims-remains.html

https://cen.acs.org/analytical-chemistry/Thirty-years-DNA-forensics-DNA/95/i37

https://zakaworld.org/units-chesed-shel-emes/

 

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