Forensic DNA Fights Terrorism

The big news from the past 24 hours is the death of Osama Bin Laden, which was reported late Sunday evening by President Barack Obama. That’s front page news the world over. But Genomics Law Report readers might be interested to note that DNA appears to have played a significant role in confirming that it was, in fact, Bin Laden who was killed in a shootout with U.S. military forces yesterday in Pakistan.

As reported by The Telegraph earlier today, Bin Laden’s identity was confirmed by government officials only after they matched DNA taken from the body in Pakistan with DNA extracted from a preserved tissue sample from Bin Laden’s sister, who died of brain cancer several years ago.  The identification happened rapidly, but, according to Christie Wilcox in a guest post at Scientific American, that’s not all that surprising. Wilcox outlines, step by step, how such an ID could have easily occurred in under 5 hours.

We have covered the use of forensic DNA techniques numerous times here at the GLR, and regular readers know identification through partial or familial DNA matching is not without both social and scientific critics. However, lest there be any doubt, CNN reports that the Obama administration used several methods, including facial recognition and eyewitness corroboration, to positively identify Bin Laden.