5 ways DNA testing can be used

Although research into DNA dates back to the late 1860s, it wasn’t until 1953 that biologist James Watson and physicist Frank Crick realised that the molecules form the three-dimensional double helix that we all recognise today. Paving the way for decades of discoveries, DNA testing provides information about a person’s genes and chromosomes meaning that it can be used for a number of different reasons.

Help you complete your family tree

A relatively cheap DNA test will allow you to discover thousands of new relatives and map out your ancestry. Many places online will let you compare your DNA results to those that they have on record so that you can be connected to branches of your family that otherwise might remain unknown. Who knows, you might find out you’re related to someone on the other side of the world or perhaps even someone famous.

Solve mysteries of the past

One of the most famous cases of DNA testing solving an ancient mystery is that of Richard III, one of the most famous kings of England who was killed in battle in 1485. Up until 2013, no one knew where he was buried until he was found beneath a car park in Leicester. It wasn’t until DNA was extracted from the bones and matched to Michael Ibsen, a direct descendant of the king’s sister, that the discovery was confirmed. DNA can last for thousands of years if it is stored in a cold, dark and dry place and scientists have even extracted DNA from Neanderthals who became extinct almost 30,000 years ago.

Detect genetic disorders early

Scientists can determine whether a fetus has any abnormalities in their chromosomes that could cause a genetic disorder. They do this by taking a sample of blood from the mother and saliva from the father. For example, trisomy 21 aka Down syndrome can both now be detected with DNA testing. This type of testing is known as prenatal genetic testing and scientists are hoping to expand their research to identify potential developmental delays and intellectual disabilities such as autism.

Catch a criminal

Forensic testing uses DNA to identify whether an individual is guilty, or innocent, of a crime. First developed in 1984, this will not detect genetic mutations in someone’s DNA but identify whether or not a person was present at a crime scene. Traces of DNA can be found in body fluids such as saliva and perspiration and forensic scientists and police officers will collect samples of these from crime scenes and compare it with the DNA of a suspect. This has been used around the world to catch some of the most prolific criminals.

For IVF treatment

Preimplantation testing or preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is a technique which can reduce the risk of having a child with a particular disorder, whether that is genetic or chromosomal. For embryos that have been created using in-vitro fertilisation, a small number of cells will be taken and tested for potential genetic changes. Understandably, only those without these changes will be implanted into the uterus to initiate a pregnancy.

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