FINS has great potential as an investigative tool

By Tammy Hardiman

It is now possible to identify the origin of a species using blood, hair, skin, or meat as a result of the procedure known as Forensically Informative Nucleotide Sequencing (FINS). This procedure was developed by BIO-ID Corporation Ltd., a joint venture between Seabright Corporation Limited and researchers at Memorial's Department of Biochemistry. Dr. William Davidson, Biochemistry, is the president of BIO- ID.

"DNA typing is used to identify the biological origin of a species. DNA is made up of four bases - A, C, G, T - and each species has its own unique sequence of bases, with a segment of 307 bases being used for the procedure," explained Sylvia Bartlett, a research associate in Biochemistry and vice-president of operations for BIO-ID. "This procedure is not the same as DNA fingerprinting which identifies an individual." BIO-ID currently has a computerized database of DNA sequences for about 2,000 animals, and it is being continuously expanded. Animals in the database include moose, caribou, seabirds, sea ducks, Atlantic salmon, Arctic char, brown trout, and blue fin tuna. The FINS process and the information in the database are used to carry to out population studies to determine genetic variations and population-specific markers. Wildlife agencies can use FINS to monitor populations which may be endangered, for example, Ms. Bartlett explained.

FINS is also being used to verify whether an animal has been obtained illegally. DNA typing can be done using blood on a knife, bloody water, bloodstains on clothing, a sample of meat, a feather, or hair. The DNA sequence is then compared with those in the database to find a match. If an exact match cannot be found a close match is determined and then an attempt is made to determine the species of the animal. The services of BIO-ID have been used by the RCMP, provincial Wildlife Service, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the evidence provided by this technique is admissible in a court of law. Currently Ms. Bartlett is using the technique to determine composition percentages in meats such as sausages, and she's designing DNA probes to identify bacteria, viruses, and fungi which could have important implications in the food industry and for medical science.

DNA typing of an animal or human requires four-steps: DNA extraction, amplification of the segment containing the 307 bases, sequencing of the segment, and the phylogenetic match with the DNA sequences found in the database. The process takes between seven and 10 days to complete, depending upon the condition of the sample.

Both European and American patents have been issued for FINS and a Canadian patent is pending. The European patent has been issued to a company in France, and there is a possibility of sub-licensing to other companies in Europe. In Europe, the DNA information determined by FINS is being used for human identification in court cases, as well as animal identification. It, also, has important applications in the food industry as the genus and species name must be included on canned products such as tuna; this information isn't necessary on products in Canada.