DNA fingerprinting helped identify Osama bin Laden

DNA fingerprinting helped confirm Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in Pakistan.

Officials in Washington are saying that the DNA evidence provides a match with 99.9 per cent confidence.

According to reports on FastCompany.com soldiers collected and tagged body fragments then shipped them off to be tested in the U.S to FBI labs. There the DNA samples were tested against “swabs” from bin Laden’s family members. A similar test is also being conducted to prove the body dumped at sea is bin Laden.

Officials did not immediately say where or how the testing was done but the test explains why U.S. President Barack Obama was confident in announcing the death to the world Sunday night, according to Canadian Press. Obama provided no details on the identification process.

The U.S. is believed to have collected DNA samples from bin Laden family members in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that triggered the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. However, it was unclear whether the U.S. also had fingerprints or some other means to identify the body on site, the wire service reports.

Typical lab testing can take up to 14 days, but a new machine being developed by a team at the University of Arizona can do it in just two hours. It’s unclear whether U.S. intelligence forces had access to such technology.

When genetic fingerprinting first started it could take as long as four to six weeks of lab work to complete and compare the samples.

DNA matching or fingerprinting is very different from doing a complete DNA sequencing — which is a lot longer process and takes time, technology and money to puzzle out the hundreds of millions of nucleotides that make up an individual’s genetic identity.

How does genetic fingerprinting work? Most human beings share 99.9 per cent of DNA sequencing. But there are millions of bits of code that are unique to each individual. You share some with your parents and siblings, but most is yours.

With DNA matching your DNA is broken down into a short list called loci — tell-tale markers that show where specific genes are located. A test sample is done and it’s compared to a reference sample from the individual. If the lists match that means there is a high statistical probability that the two samples come from the same person.

But with bin Laden the DNA test didn’t involve a reference sample from him, but rather from his sister. The sample from his sister works because parents give siblings some of their DNA and they share the same genetic code.

When testing against a relative’s DNA, scientists often look to parts of the genome described as junk DNA which are passed on to all offspring. By testing these strands of DNA, it’s possible to work out if two individuals are related as siblings.

But no matter the speed, DNA matching isn’t perfect. It’s far from an exact science and comes down to probabilities.


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