[OUTLOOK]Trust scientific evidence

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[OUTLOOK]Trust scientific evidence

There is a famous question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Biologist Edward Wilson at Harvard University states that eggs came first. He says that a hen is just a temporary medium to produce eggs, that will then go on to produce more eggs. According to him, social behavior is decided by genes.
Richard Dawkins of Oxford University goes even further. In his book, “The Selfish Gene,” he declared that humans are puppets controlled by genes. Humans conduct their duty of passing their genes to following generations, by eating, living and loving as has been pre-programmed in their genes.
Genes are selfish and interested in nothing but their self-preservation, the author says. Parental love is an act to protect the 50 percent of the genes in a child that each parent has contributed. Parents help each other raise their shared children because doing so benefits both the mother and father.
DNA analysis is a branch of forensic studies that utilizes the selfishness of genes. A couple of cells from hair, blood, semen or saliva are all that are needed to prove identity. Because of the strong self-preservation of genes, everybody has unique genetic fingerprints. A DNA test identifies not only the person to whom the samples belong but also traits that were passed on from parents. DNA testing was first developed in Britain, in 1984. After constant development, DNA testing has now become the most accurate method of forensic studies, with nearly 100 percent accuracy.
The other day, I visited the National Institute of Scientific Investigation. While I was there, Han Myeon-soo, the DNA analysis chief of the institute, had other guests. A journalist and a producer from the major French television station, TFI, were there to interview him.
They wanted to know what I was also curious about. They asked Mr. Han if he was 100 percent sure of the results of DNA analysis on a French couple who are suspects in the murder of two babies. The babies were found frozen in the couple’s freezer last month. Mr. Han’s answer was simple and clear. “If you take the samples to any other institute in the world, the result will be the same,” he said.
Scientists keep their minds open to the possibility of exceptions, no matter how small that chance may be. That is the reason Mr. Han’s research team never says it is 100 percent sure. However, they know that there is little chance that their DNA analysis could be wrong.
Among genetic repetitive sequences, the Federal Bureau of Investigation usually analyzes 11 and Interpol seven. But the Korean institute made 17 matches. The institute analyzed even mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from a mother only to her child, without any contribution from the father. The institute took samples from toothbrushes, an ear swab and a comb at the couple’s home and analyzed the genes of Mr. and Mrs. Courjault and the two dead babies.
DNA analysis is an expensive process. To map one genomic fingerprint, 50,000 won ($51) worth of chemical agents are needed. To test the DNA of the French couple, several researchers analyzed and compared results to make sure there were no mistakes. Almost 10 million won was spent on the tests, they say.
Veronica Courjault, the suspected mother of the two babies, says that samples were never taken from her for tests. But the odds that the DNA samples the Korean institute took were from someone else are one in 2 trillion.
The French couple is saying they do not trust Korea’s science and technology. The French reporter and producer asked Mr. Han if he was upset at the couple’s attitude. Dr. Han didn’t say a word but just smiled, as if saying “that’s the way it is.”
In Korea, DNA testing started in 1991 and has been used in 125,000 criminal cases so far. This is not all. The researchers at the National Institute of Scientific Investigation go to the scene to identify victims of large-scale disasters and also identify casualties of the Korean War. They even go to natural sanctuaries where wild animals are protected.
Every time researchers go to a crime scene, genes reveal answers although the culprits may keep silent. Of course, we should remember that the Courjaults are innocent until proven guilty. However, as long as they remain silent, the souls of the two dead babies will never be at rest.
The Korean and French law enforcement authorities should work together to find the truth for the sake of the babies’ souls.

* The writer is the head of the JoongAng Ilbo’s weekend news team.

by Lee Hoon-beom
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