The development of DNA analysis technology has revolutionized both healthcare and forensic science. For some years now, DNA analysts have been able to identify whether blood or other bodily fluids or tissues came from animal or human origins, but modern DNA analysis has advanced to the point where researchers can now match a single hair, flake of skin or a stain from a drop of blood to a specific individual.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree in chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology or forensics science is generally required to work as a DNA analyst, although some smaller crime labs might hire analysts with less education. Forensic science programs usually include classwork in biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics and statistics. DNA analysts also typically undertake a 6- to 12-month on-the-job training program.
Analyze DNA Samples
The primary responsibility of a DNA analyst is to analyze blood and tissue samples. A forensic DNA analyst might compare the DNA from a hair found at a crime scene to the DNA in a blood sample taken from a suspect. Analysts can apply several different techniques to analyze DNA, but Polymerase Chain Reaction methods, which copy a designated section of the DNA multiple times, are the most common. After copying by PCR, DNA molecules are split at specific locations to separate them into identifiable "chunks," and the genetic code is studied for markers unique to this chunk of DNA that make it positively identifiable. The two prepared samples are then compared to see if they match.
Review the Work of Others
Quality control processes in forensic labs typically require that all DNA tests are performed at least twice. Therefore, DNA analysts are frequently called on to replicate or review a DNA identification procedure done by a colleague. Senior DNA analysts might also be called on to review the methods and results of other analysts in cases where the results are in dispute.
Prepare Reports and Testify in Court
DNA analysts are also usually responsible for preparing official reports regarding their analyses. These reports are collected in a central repository until all testing is complete, at which point a final report is prepared and distributed to all concerned parties. DNA analysts are also sometimes called on to testify in court regarding the results of DNA tests and the methods used in undertaking the tests.