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SPRINGS BACTERIUM DISCOVERY KEY TO DNA FINGERPRINTING
from NSF in basic biological research was critical to the discovery of
a microbe's enzyme that makes modern DNA fingerprinting possible.
DNA fingerprinting has enabled the legal community to identify, with unprecedented
accuracy, a suspect's involvement in a crime, or
to demonstrate the innocence of wrongly accused individuals.
DNA fingerprints aresequences
of DNA molecules that are unique to each individual.The
patterns of these sequences can be identified when tiny amounts of DNA
are amplified with a technique known as the Polymerase Chain Reaction
(PCR). PCR uses DNA polymerase, an enzyme that assembles DNA chains over
many cycles of heating and cooling.
Most DNA polymerase cannot withstand high temperatures. But NSF-supported
research discovered a bacterium (Thermus aquaticus), in hot springs
Separate research to develop a heat-resistant DNA polymerase was pursued
in the private or commercial sector.
PCR and DNA
That discovery enabled the commercial sector to pioneer PCR and its ability
to amplify millions of copies of DNA in a matter of hours.PCR
has subsequently become an essential tool of DNA analysis for forensic
and other identification uses.
These techniques are also used to track endangered species and determine
the source of possibly illegally hunted animals. Research on heat-tolerant
microbes has also led to development of enzymes for nonpolluting detergents.