[FOUNTAIN]Genes ruleIn 1983 in a rural district of the United Kingdom, a 15-year-old girl was found murdered after having been raped. There was no progress in the case during the next three years, until at the same village a second 15-year-old was murdered in the same way. Shortly thereafter, the police arrested a 17-year-old youth and soon announced that he had confessed to the second rape-murder. The police asked Alec Jeffreys, a geneticist, to use the techniques of genetic identification that he had pioneered to see if the youth could also have been the murderer of the first girl.
Mr. Jeffreys, who studied the implications for kinship identification in the human genetic structure, knew that human DNA was 99.9-percent identical in different persons. But he found unique differences in the rest of the genetic makeup of each person.
He used semen samples found at the scenes of the two murders to trace the DNA “fingerprints” of the murderer or murderers, and found that the crimes were indeed committed by one person. But he also found that the arrested youth could not have committed either murder.
Police collected DNA samples from all the young men of the village; they were analyzed and a match was found with a 25-year-old man, who had the dubious distinction of being the first criminal caught by DNA fingerprinting 33 years after the announcement by Francis Crick in a Cambridge pub that he and James Watson had discovered the structure of DNA ― “the secret of life,” as he put it.
When the two men plus Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962, the speaker presenting the prize noted that “no one can really ascertain the consequences of this new exact knowledge of the mechanisms of heredity.” But those consequences were quickly seen. Geneticists have found the unique functions of many parts of the DNA double helix and have developed techniques for disassembling DNA and recombining it in new ways. In 1997, 11 years after DNA convicted a British murderer, a cloned sheep was born. In 2000, the human genetic map was published.
Recently a religious cult has asserted but not backed up its claim of having cloned a human being. The mystery of life, which belonged to the realm of religion alone until the 19th century, has become a science involving lifeless molecules and perhaps man creating man.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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