[FOUNTAIN]Science lag poses trouble for nations

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[FOUNTAIN]Science lag poses trouble for nations

DNA analysis is common today, but DNA testing in criminal investigation started not so long ago. In 1985, British scientist Alec Jeffreys discovered a strange phenomenon while studying a section of DNA. He named it “minisatellite,” which showed more dramatic variations than other strands and can be used as identification like fingerprints.
By using the minisatellite analysis, the probability of two individuals having the same minisatellite section of DNA is one in 300 billion. In a world of 6 billion people, the probability is essentially zero.
Korea first utilized the DNA minisatellite investigation in May 1992 in the case of the sexual assault of a girl in Uijeongbu.
The U.S. military uses DNA testing to identify excavated remains of servicemembers from the Korean War. When the excavation team gathered bones and skulls in North Korea, they were transferred to the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii. During the process, the United States maintained a unique attitude. Among the remains that Pyeongyang handed over through Panmunjeom in the early 1990s, a considerable amount of animal bones were included. However, Washington never complained. A Korea-U.S. Joint Command source later said that Washington was concerned that raising the issue might make Pyeongyang back off. The problem was resolved in 1996 as the joint excavation started.
Recently, DNA testing found that the supposed remains of abductee Megumi Yokota provided by Pyeongyang were not hers. The Japanese Prime Minister complained to Pyeongyang, and Japan is now threatening to suspend food and medical assistance. Japan’s response is different from the quiet handling by Washington.
Of course, sending the wrong remains is completely Pyeongyang’s fault. However, the National Intelligence Service and the Ministry of Unification sources say that Pyeongyang might not have intended to fool Japan for it does not have the latest DNA testing technology. Has Tokyo considered that possibility? The Japanese are so upset that Pyeongyang might have mislead them that they are more interested in pressuring North Korea than receiving the remains of the abductee. Japan is right to protest the mistake, but it might want to follow Washington’s mature example.


by Ahn Sung-kyoo

The writer is a political news deputy editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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