DNA typing at
outfit offers state- of- the- art testing for paternity or crime
DNA typing is also an invaluable tool not
only in fighting infectious diseases such as dengue, TB and
hepatitis but also in the early detection of genetic disorders
such as thalassaemia .
If the clinical symptoms of dengue are present, a molecular
diagnosis can be done through DNA typing to check for the
virus within the first three days, unlike the usual blood
tests which need to be taken only after the sixth day, says
"Take the case of thalassaemia. We can check whether
a person is a carrier by doing this test. Even in the cases
where cancer runs in the family, we can do DNA typing to check
out whether a healthy person is genetically pre-disposed to
getting the disease," adds Dr. Fernandopulle.
The only person who is certain of a child's
father is his mother, is an oft-mentioned
derogatory joke against women.
that scenario has changed forever. Now even a man can establish
for certain whether he is the father or not, thanks to DNA typing.
And DNA typing
has well and truly been established in Sri Lanka through the pioneering
and trailblazing efforts of a few scientists who included Dr. Maya
Gunasekera and Dr. Neil Fernandopulle.
To throw open
and make bio-technology accessible to the wider public Dr. Gunasekera
and Dr. Fernandopulle have set up Genetech, Sri Lanka's first biotech
company, a private facility offering DNA typing services.
biology lies at the interface between genetics and biochemistry.
It is an exciting and rapidly growing area of science. Genetech
Molecular Diagnostics and School of Genetech Technology seeks to
introduce to Sri Lanka these benefits," says Dr. Gunasekera
who is the Chief Executive, citing the example of how DNA typing
was used a few years ago to allay the fears of a father about the
paternity of his 13-year-old daughter. "All parties concerned,
especially the daughter, were relieved to find that he was in fact
is used to identify individuals from biological samples. This is
mainly done in forensic casework where it is possible to determine
the identity of a criminal by typing the DNA left behind at the
scene of the crime. The second important use of DNA typing is to
determine family relationships such as paternity or maternity and
even in the identification of mutilated bodies, explains Dr. Gunasekera.
fingerprinting was discovered in 1986, with DNA typing following
in the 1990s, it came to Sri Lanka only with tests being done for
the first time in the infamous Hokandara murder case in 1996. Dr.
Gunasekera who was part of the team at the University of Colombo's
Science Faculty, which was involved in this pioneering effort used
this near miraculous technique to test the DNA of one of the victims
whose bloodstains had been found on the clothing of three of the
acid) is self-replicating material present in all living organisms.
It is inherited from our parents and is considered the chemical
blueprint that makes us unique, except in the case of identical
twins and now in clones. A child inherits one half of his or her
DNA from the mother and the other half from the father.
all the genetic information of an individual and is found in almost
every cell in the human body. It does not change throughout a person's
life and can be found in skin cells, muscle tissue, blood, hair
follicles, saliva, semen, teeth, bones and even in tiny nail scrapings.
DNA is a constituent
of chromosomes which are thread-like structures found in the cell
nucleus and carry genetic information in the form of genes.
even better proof than fingerprinting, DNA typing has been used
in the west due to its 100% success rate in crime-busting.
'short-tandem-repeat' (STR) method is used to analyse DNA samples.
This method identifies subjects not by the entire genetic blueprint
but by tiny stretches of DNA coding known as short tandem repeats.
These STRs are just two to seven base pairs long and give accurate
of two people having the same DNA profile at three genetic locations
would be about one in 2000; at nine locations one in a billion and
at 12 locations one in at trillion.
in Sri Lanka began as an award-winning Ph.D project of Dr. Fernandopulle
in 1997 with Dr. Maya Gunasekera and Dr. Nalin Gunasekera as investigators
at the Colombo University.
By 1999 they
were in a position to offer DNA typing for judicial cases and that's
when it was used in the Hokandara murders, where six in one family
Later Dr. Maya
had moved onto the Ragama medical faculty and seeing the demand
of this kind of specialized service and feeling constrained in providing
them within a university environment had decided to mobilize the
expertise of 12 professionals and set up Genetech in Borella. Registered
in May 2002, Genetech had accepted the first sample in a paternity
case in October.
inauguration of Genetech took place yesterday at the SLFI.
" In November
we did DNA typing in a rape-murder of a child, with two more similar
cases coming in December," says Dr. Fernandopulle voicing concern
over the incidents of rape-murder involving children.
DNA typing services for a fee of Rs. 9,000 in cases ranging from
child custody and maintenance to rape and murder and even in adultery
or testamentary cases.
is also a boon to the innocent. " When we were at the university
a man who was accused of making his daughter pregnant was proved
otherwise while in another case a school van driver who was suspected
of making a 12-year-old pregnant, when tested was found not to be
the culprit," says Dr. Fernandopulle.