DNA on WWII letters helps identify body of sailor killed at Pearl Harbor

Published on April 15th, 2010 | by Admin


NPR has an interesting story about how DNA found on letters sent to his mother have allowed researchers to identify the remains of an 18-year-old sailor killed at Pearl Harbor.

NORRIS: Now, tell me a little bit more about the hunt, how they were actually able to take the DNA from those letters and match that against his DNA and actually identify those remains. How did that happen?

Ms. GERMAIN: Let’s see. There’s three criteria, if my understanding is correct. They need dental, they need historic data, and they need DNA. And that’s where it turned into this conundrum because two sailors had the same mitochondrial DNA, and I understand that mitochondrial DNA, there’s, like, lots of DNA available for sampling, but with nuclear, a person’s own, there’s very few, and it’s very difficult and very expensive.

The governments used mitochondrial DNA processing for years, but now with Gerry’s case, because there were two with the same, what to do? How can you fine-tune it to identify Gerry positively?

I called my cousin to see if she had any hair or garments or anything that would have his DNA on. She thought, oh my goodness, I’ve got about 70 letters that Gerry sent home to our grandmother, and his DNA would be on the envelopes that he licked himself. That was a positive.

NORRIS: So they were able to use the nuclear DNA from the saliva on those envelopes to make a positive match?

Ms. GERMAIN: And it’s almost like predestined serendipity because why did our grandmother, instead of slitting across the top, she slit down the left vertical edge, and so the flap was never opened. The seal was intact, and the scientist became very animated when he said that there was no contamination.

[Full story]

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2 Responses to DNA on WWII letters helps identify body of sailor killed at Pearl Harbor

  1. Jaelyn says:

    Begun, the great inretnet education has.

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