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Family to Forensics: Decoding the Secrets of a DNA Swab

How much Information is Stored in a DNA Cheek Swab?

How much Information is Stored in a DNA Cheek Swab?

The DNA cheek swab, also known as a buccal swab, is an easy, non-intrusive way to gather DNA samples. This process is as simple as it sounds: a cotton swab is swiped against the inside of the cheek then the sample is packaged and sent to a lab for analysis. What most people don’t know is the many ways that a DNA swab can be used to catch criminals and shed light on centuries of family history.

DNA Cheek Swabs Stop Law Breakers

In June of 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of allowing law enforcement to take DNA samples from anyone arrested in connection with a serious crime without a warrant. The ruling began with the arrest of one man for an unrelated crime.

Alonzo Jay King, Jr. was arrested in Wicomico County, Maryland for assault after he pointed a weapon at several bystanders in 2009. It was an open and shut case because eyewitness testimony was available and King didn’t deny his guilt. Once a DNA swab sample was taken and run through the national data base, police were able to link King to an unsolved rape that happened six years earlier.

King’s lawyers argued that harvesting the DNA sample was considered an ”unreasonable search” and violated King’s rights. In the end, the Supreme Court upheld Maryland’s law.

So what is it that law enforcement looks at when reviewing a DNA sample? Authorities send samples to over 200 labs – both public and private – who inspect 13 loci, or locations, on two chromosome sets. This is usually referred to as “junk DNA”. The finished profile consists of 26 data points and can be stored for an indefinite length of time. Just like a fingerprint, police can match up suspects with crime scene evidence using data collected from DNA samples.

In 1998, the FBI developed the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a fully integrated law enforcement system of DNA records from national, state, and local crime laboratories. CODIS currently contains more than four million DNA profiles from convicted offenders and more than 160,000 DNA profiles obtained from crime scene evidence.  The passage of the DNA Fingerprinting Act of 2005 allowed CODIS to include samples from any individual from whom collection was authorized under state law, and also permitted inclusion of DNA from federal arrestees and from non-U.S. detainees. These changes in the law have led to a dramatic expansion of forensic DNA databases.

Unraveling Ancestry Genetics with DNA Swabs

Anyone interested in their family history can use a DNA swab sample to learn more about where they come from. Ethnic markers can be used to explore up to 50 generations within a person’s family. The data collected can reveal a number of interesting details about individuals and their distant relatives.

The sample can shed light on which populations a person has ties to and can identify migration routes ancestors may have used.  Technology can match DNA with 115,000 individual forensic records in over 400 known world populations to reveal detailed results, including the top 50 individual rankings and ancestry results. These populations account for much of the known historic migration of people. Through advanced statistical analysis, this can truly answer the question, “Where am I from?”

DNA testing has expanded dramatically over the decades. DNA forensic technology may be law enforcement’s most remarkable crime-fighting tool in history. Individuals and families can uncover the secrets of their past and ancestry linage by being able to discover previous generation’s histories and migrations. All this information can be accomplished by a single cheek swab sample. Science and technology are truly amazing!

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One Comment on “Family to Forensics: Decoding the Secrets of a DNA Swab
  1. Pingback: DNA Test from DNA Spectrum Shows Heritage Like a Map of the Past | Bundaberg Sailing Club

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