What do the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, African-American history, and the 9/11 tragedy all have in common? Yep, DNA.
Baby 81. DNA saved the day when it helped bring parents and a lost child together after the tsunami hit Sri Lanka on the day after Christmas 2004.
Lots of people were separated from their families. In particular, a lot of children were separated from their parents. One child was called "Baby 81" when he was admitted to the hospital.
As you can imagine, many parents who lost children in the tsunami hoped that Baby 81 might be theirs. The hospital didn't want to give the child away to the wrong family, so a judge ordered DNA testing to prove who the parents really were.
Everything turned out in the end for one family when the DNA fingerprinting tests came back and they were able to reclaim their son.
Ecuador, New Hampshire, and African-American Heritage. We all want to know where we come from. Many African-Americans have trouble figuring it out because their ancestors were slaves and there are not very good records of their lives. Several scientists are trying to use DNA fingerprinting to identify which regions in Africa slaves came from so that modern day people can trace their family history.
Scientists sometimes have trouble collecting DNA samples in Africa for comparison to samples taken here. This means that the scientists have to look for other ways to trace the trail of history left by DNA.
A random email from one scientist to another has connected the search for African roots in two very different places. One scientist was trying to identify the remains of slaves buried in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The other scientist was interested in the black people of Ecuador.
These two scientists shared information and found that there were similarities between modern day blacks in Ecuador and the slave remains in New Hampshire. The scientists now plan to take more DNA samples in Ecuador.
They will use these to build a database of DNA fingerprints. They can then combine this database with records from the American slave trade and build a better picture of the African-American history, helping more people know about their roots.
9/11 and the World Trade Center When the airplanes hit the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, nearly 3000 people were killed. The impact of the planes and the fires that started made it impossible to identify many of the victims.
In order to give closure to the families of the people who died, the medical examiner's office in New York has been working on identifying every remain found using DNA. Even reclaiming a little bit of their loved one has been important to some families.
People turned in toothbrushes and hair brushes and anything else that might have traces of their loved one's DNA on it. The medical examiner's office then tried to match the DNA in the remains to these samples.
Unfortunately, they had to stop the DNA identifications in February 2005researchers had reached the limits of DNA fingerprinting technology. There are still samples that contain tiny bits of DNA, but they will have to wait until methods like the lab-on-a-chip that needs less sample become available.
When that happens they will be able to begin their work again to bring more closure to the families of those that were lost.