[FOUNTAIN]Facts fail to mend dreams

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[FOUNTAIN]Facts fail to mend dreams

In 1902, a murder case was reported in Paris. The case that seemed wrapped in mystery was solved by a French law enforcement officer, Alphonse Bertillon. He used an investigative technology that had been just invented, searching for fingerprints. The murderer was captured due to the fingerprints he had left all over the room. This was the first case reported in which a criminal was captured using fingerprints.
In 1985, in Leicestershire, Britain, two schoolgirls were murdered. Again, it was modern technology that caught the criminal in this case. However, the level of technology was different from what was used 83 years earlier. The murderer was caught because of head and body hair he left behind. It was the DNA fingerprints found in the hairs that played the key role in identifying the criminal.
Identifying a person through fingerprints originated in the ancient East. In Japanese history, it is written that thumb marks were used instead of seals. A law promulgated in 701 stipulated the use of thumb prints in divorce documents. In the Edo period during the 16th century, thumb prints were accepted instead of stamps in criminal confessions. Japanese ceramicists left their fingerprints on their not yet solid pottery to prove it was their work. Francis Galton first thought of identifying criminals through fingerprints. His discovery seemed to ensure no crime would remain unsolved. However, the limits of fingerprinting were exposed as forged or falsified prints became apparent and some criminals were too smart to leave any fingerprints.
DNA fingerprinting was able to overcome these limitations. DNA fingerprints consist of short DNA pieces that include continuously repeated messages. The degree of repetition and location differs for each individual. A prosecutor in America gave witness in court that the probability of failing to identify a person through DNA fingerprinting is only one in 738 trillion cases.
DNA is a secure material, which maintains its features even after a person is long dead. Josef Mengele was a war criminal who sterilized 400.000 people according to ethnic cleansing laws of the Nazis. Like other war criminals, he fled to South America after Germany lost the war. Remains suspected to be his were found in the 1980s and, through DNA comparison with his son, his death was confirmed. This DNA fingerprinting is being mentioned to help solve the stem cell debate. According to the test’s result, whether Dr. Hwang Woo-suk’s cloned stem cells really existed will be determined. The truth will be revealed by DNA fingerprinting but how will we ever put together the scattered dreams of Korean genetics?


by Yi Jung-jae

The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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