The evolution of DNA testing advanced significantly when Dr. Kary Mullis discovered that DNA could be copied in the laboratory much as it is in the natural world.
The copying process, known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), uses an enzyme (polymerase) to replicate DNA regions in a test tube. By repeating the copying process, a small number of DNA molecules can be reliably increased up to billions within several hours.
Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) analysis requires a biological sample about the size of a quarter, but PCR can be used to reproduce millions of copies of the DNA contained in just a few skin cells. Since PCR analysis requires only a minute quantity of DNA, it can enable the laboratory to analyze highly degraded evidence for DNA.
On the other hand, because the sensitive PCR technique replicates any and all of the DNA contained in an evidence sample, greater attention to contamination issues is required when identifying, collecting, and preserving DNA evidence. These factors may be particularly important in the evaluation of unsolved cases in which evidence might have been improperly collected or stored.
(Information provided by the Department of Justice)
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