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DNA Databases: Technology and Legislation

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Introduction to DNA databases

A DNA database can be defined as a databank of DNA samples which can be used in the analysis of genetic diseases, genetic fingerprinting for criminal cases and genetic genealogy. The DNA profiles held in these databases are stored electronically. These databases have proved to be very useful in the conviction and exoneration of suspects in criminal cases as well as providing a means of identification in the cases of mass disasters. The creation of these databases in different countries is outlined in the table below:

Table 1: Year of creation of DNA databases

Country

Year

USA

1994/1998[1]

UK

April 1995[2]

New Zealand

1995/1996[3]

Netherlands

1997

Austria

October 1997

Germany

1998

France

1998/2001[4]

Finland

September 1999

Norway

End of 1999

Canada

1999/2000[5]

Australia

2001, 2002[6]

(Schneider & Martin, 2001)

As the above list represents some of the first countries to establish DNA databases, there are many more which have fully functional DNA databases including the majority of EU countries with the exception of: Ireland (planned) , Italy, & Portugal (not known to what extent it is implemented in either country), and Malta. (GeneWatch UK, 2014). Worldwide, the below image (fig.1) illustrates what countries (60) have functional DNA databases, countries who have plans to establish databases (34), and countries without:

DNA databases worldwide (Forensic Genetic Policy Initiative, 2014)

Figure 1 DNA databases worldwide (Forensic Genetic Policy Initiative, 2014)

Looking at the conviction rates attributed to DNA evidence over the past number of years, it is obvious that they are very useful. Looking at ten EU countries (table 1 below), their population size, and the number of samples taken by December 2011, it can be seen that these databases are vital in criminal investigations.

Table 1 DNA samples obtained

Country

Population

Total Persons Samples Taken From

% of Population

Austria

8,100,000

151,811

1.87

Belgium

10,100,000

22,871

0.23

France

64,300,000

1,873,016

2.91

Germany

81,835,000

746,912

0.91

Sweden

9,000,000

107,130

1.19

UK (England & Wales)

53,700,000

5,508,170

10.26

Latvia

2,400,000

37,037

1.54

Scotland

5,062,000

236,202

4.67

Czech Republic

10,300,000

82,024

0.80

Hungary

9,982,000

90,275

0.90

TOTAL

254,779,000

8,855,448

3.48

(ENFSI, 2012)

The Type of Technology Used

When biological samples are collected and sent for analysis, they are firstly amplified using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). This allows for minute quantities and/or degraded samples to be analysed. Certain regions within the genome known as Short Tandem Repeats (STRs) which are found in non-coding regions are focused on. These STRs are composed of short units of DNA usually 4 or 5 bases long. These locations are used as the ‘chemical letters’ of the DNA are known to be repeated a different number of times in different people. During the PCR process, fluorescent dyes are attached to each of these STR copies (a different dye for each STR). This allows for them to be distinguished. The DNA fragments are then separated by size through the use of capillary electrophoresis, from which the number of repetitive units at each site can be calculated. (grow, 2011)

In order to acquire a DNA match, the number of copies at each STR location must match that of the unknown sample. Different countries use different numbers of locations with the USA using 13 STR loci. Below in fig. 2, it shows how the bands from DNA samples will match:

Example of DNA sequences

Figure 2 Example of DNA sequences (Understanding Evolution, 2012)

As can be seen from the above figure, suspect two is an identical match to the crime scene sample. The reason for using multi STR loci is to eliminate the possibility of a false match.

STR analysis can also be used for the identification of military casualties, however another method in the identification of mass disaster victims is through the use of lineage markers. Lineage markers are also used in the case of mass disasters. Mitochondrial DNA markers are used to determine maternal linkage, and similarly, Y chromosome markers are used to determine paternal linkage. These are useful as they are passed from generation to generation without change except in the case of mutations. (University of Vermont)

The number of loci used in investigations

In the USA, 13 STR loci are used plus the X and Y chromosomes as illustrated in fig. 3 below:

13 CODIS Core STR Loci

Figure 3 13 CODIS Core STR Loci

(FBI, 1997)

The reason for using 13 STR loci when other countries use less, is due to the fact the more locations tested, the higher accuracy of the match. The table below outlines the different loci used in different countries:

Table 2 Core Loci used in different countries

Country

Number of Loci

Loci

UK

10

FGA, TH01, VWA, D2S1338, D3S1358, D8S1179, D16S539, D18S51, D19S433, D21S11 (plus Amelogenin)

Austria

6

TH01, VWA, FGA, D8S1179, D18S51, D21S11

(plus Amelogenin)

Germany

8

FGA, TH01, SE33, VWA, D3S1358, D18S51, D21S11

(plus Amelogenin)

Netherlands

6

TH01, VWA, FGA, D8S1179, D18S51, D21S11

(plus Amelogenin)

European Core Loci

12

FGA,TH01,VWA,D1S1656,D2S441,D3S1358,D8S1179,D10S1248,D12S391,D18S51,D21S11,D22S1045 plus additional: D2S1338,D16S539,D19S433,SE33, Amelogenin

(Butler, March 2006)

The loci listed in the above were not always the standard, however all countries are now required to follow the ESS (European Standard Set) or majority thereof. Similarly, in order to allow for international database cooperation, the Interpol Standard Set of Loci (ISSOL) is now equal to the ESS. These standards are required as in the past the main problem with cooperation between countries was that different loci were looked at which resulted in the inability of different laboratories to compare DNA profiles. (Gill, Fereday, Morling, & Schneider, 2006)

Legislation associated with DNA databases

The legislation associated with the DNA databases is different for most countries. The table below outlines the main differences amongst countries such as the entry criteria of database samples, and the removal of entries from the database.

Table 3 Legislation associated with DNA databases in different countries

Country

Entry Criteria

Removal Criteria

USA

State dependent

UK

Persons convicted of any recordable offence, arrested for any recordable offense, and all crime scene stains

Convicted persons and suspects samples are retained indefinitely and crime scene stains until they have been identified. [7]

Austria

Convicted persons, suspects charged of a serious offence, crime scene stains

Convicted persons profiles retained indefinitely, suspects removed upon acquittal (written request), crime scene stains kept until case solved.

Germany

Persons convicted of a serious offence or repeatedly committing the same minor offence, suspects charged of a serious offence, and crime scene stains when related to any recordable offence

Convicted persons’ and suspects profiles are removed when their retention is no longer necessary and crime scene stains must be deleted after 30 years of their entry

France

Convicted persons, suspects charged of a serious offence, and crime scene stains when deemed relevant

Kept for 40 years after conviction or until 80th birthday, acquitted suspects removed on request crime scene stains removed 40 years after analysis

(CRG, 2011)

The number of profiles held on the database

The number of profiles held on national databases varies dependent on the entry criteria, retention time and removal criteria as well as the overall population size. Table 4 below shows the database sizes for 4 countries.

Table 4 Database sizes

Country

Database size

USA

13,039,728[8]

UK

5,950,612

Germany

920,000[9]

France

1,270,000[10]

Word count (minus textboxes, footnotes and references): 1195


[1] CODIS established in 1994, but not passed by all 50 states until 1998

[2] Europe’s first DNA database

[3] Bill passed in 1995, became operational in 1996

[4] Passed in 1998 for use in 1999, completed in 2001

[5] Act proposed in 1999, legislation became official in 2000

[6] Three databases established, for Criminal Investigations, Disaster Victim Identification & Australian Federal Police

[7] In Scotland convicted persons samples are retained indefinitely but suspects must be removed upon acquittal

[8] CODIS – NDIS Statistics http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/lab/biometric-analysis/codis/ndis-statistics

[9]“STOP THE DNA COLLECTION FRENZY” http://dnapolicyinitiative.org/genewatch-forensic-dna/stop-the-dna- collection-frenzy-expansion-of-germanys-dna-database/

[10] Assemblée Nationale http://questions.assemblee-nationale.fr/q13/13-68468QE.htm


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