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The Manfil Family

Sometimes the stories are about things that are less happy. The Manfil family was abducted in 1979 from their home in the middle of the night. Eventually the mother, the father and the son were all murdered. Carina and Christian were wounded but survived, and Graciella was actually sleeping over at a friend's house when her parents were taken in the night. The bodies of the parents and this son were not found, at least not for many years.

Then, mass graves began to turn up. There was a mass grave site that was a plausible site to contain the remains of the Manfil family. And so, one was faced with the prospect of multiple skeletons and skulls, and trying to identify which were the remains of the Manfil family. Dr. King's group at Berkeley worked out ways to sequence the DNA. They obtained DNA from the teeth of the skull by sawing the tooth in half under sterile conditions and extracting and sequencing mitochondrial DNA. They tried it out first at Berkeley with the baby teeth of lots of residents of Berkeley. When they found they could do it with baby teeth they began to do it with skulls.

They found, in fact, that the skulls of the male child and the mother matched the sister, because they all had the same mitochondrial DNA. The DNA sequence from the molar of the presumptive father also matched his grandmother. Thus these mitochondrial DNA sequences establish they are indeed the Manfil family. The remains have been re-buried in the family grave. It's unlikely much justice will come in the case because the military has declared an amnesty at this point for crimes committed during this period.

DNA Identification in Agriculture: Protecting Plant Varieties

Let me also mention to you two other applications of DNA identification technology. It turns out to be useful in identifying not only humans, but plants as well. One of the great uses of DNA fingerprinting turns out not just to be in the criminal courts but in the civil courts - for corn and tomato cases. People spend a tremendous amount of time developing strains of corn by old breeding techniques, and they can never gain intellectual property protection for it, never get patent protection on it, because there's no way to prove this corn plant was theirs. So they put all this work into developing the strain, and someone steals the strain, and they can't prove anything about it. Well in fact, now you can do DNA fingerprinting on corn plants, and many large seed companies routinely maintain databases of the DNA fingerprints of all their important varieties, so they can go to court and prove their ownership. It creates economic protection, and it gives people an incentive to develop things.

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