A common procedure for DNA fingerprinting is restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP). In this method, DNA is extracted from a sample and cut into segments using special restriction enzymes. RFLP focuses on segments that contain sequences of repeated DNA bases, which vary widely from person to person. The segments are separated using a laboratory technique called electrophoresis, which sorts the fragments by length. The segments are radioactively tagged to produce a visual pattern known as an autoradiograph, or "DNA fingerprint," on X-ray film. A newer method known as short tandem repeats (STR) analyzes DNA segments for the number of repeats at 13 specific DNA sites. The chance of misidentification in this procedure is one in several billion. Yet another process, polymerase chain reaction, is used to produce multiple copies of segments from a very limited amount of DNA (as little as 50 molecules), enabling a DNA fingerprint to be made from a single hair. Once a sufficient sample has been produced, the pattern of the alleles (see genetics) from a limited number of genes is compared with the pattern from the reference sample. A nonmatch is conclusive, but the technique provides less certainty when a match occurs.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.