DNA question

rdudley at aherf.edu rdudley at aherf.edu
Tue Aug 4 08:59:20 EST 1998

In article <Pine.OSF.3.93.980804121847.13968C-100000 at sparrow.qut.edu.au>,
  BELINDA PARIS <n1579525 at sparrow.qut.edu.au> wrote:
> I don't know if this is the correct place to post this question, but here
> goes:
> If somebody spontaneously combusts, is it possible to determine from the
> pile of ashes left, if they were human, or anything about that person by
> DNA or some other technique. e.g. is mitochondrial dna useful?

Well...if the person (or whatever) completely combusted, the ashes would be
anything noncombustable--mineral deposits, stuff like that.  The DNA would be
destroyed with all other organic materials.

However, since combustion is rarely 100% effective, you could potentially
recover some DNA.  If the DNA is not damaged too much (by heat, dehydration,
or reaction with other elements during combustion), it could be analyzed. 
Given that DNA analysis techniques are increasing in sensitivity, you might
be able to determine species, sex, etc, with good genetic analysis and some
simple database searches.

It's possible, but very tricky, since combusted material is "dirty", and would
contain a lot of residues that could inhibit some of the analysis techniques.


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