DNA Fingerprinting at RGCB helps identify bodies in Puttingal temple fire tragedy

Thiruvananthapuram, Apr 08: All the missing persons in the last year’s devastating fire incident at Puttingal Devi temple in Kollam, which left over 100 people dead, have been successfully identified, thanks to DNA fingerprinting facilities at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) here.  


From body parts that lay strewn all across, and from corpses charred beyond recognition in the April 10, 2016 fierce blaze at the 100-year-old temple, scientists at the Regional Facility for DNA Fingerprinting of the RGCB used genetic information, unique to every person, to painstakingly identify each of the missing cases.


The identification of bodies through such a facility has come as a respite both for the State administration and bereaved families, which lost their members in the fire in the temple complex during an unauthorised display of fireworks. The mishap also left more than 300 people injured. 

DNA fingerprinting, as this technology is called, uses information contained in genes through DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) to identify unique traits to determine family relationships, conduct medical diagnosis as well as solve crimes.


Professor M Radhakrishna Pillai, Director, RGCB, said DNA fingerprinting is a highly specalised area of knowledge that can benefit people immensely, but it is available only in select centres in the country.

Dr. E V Soniya, an expert in high-end molecular biology and who heads the DNA Fingerprinting Facility at RGCB, said, “The time taken for the process depends on quality of the biological sample obtained. A bone tissue sample, for instance, may take two-three days whereas DNA identification from a blood sample can be completed in a day.”  “Over the past couple of years, RGCB has enhanced its expertise in the area; our success in high-visibility cases like the Puttingal temple tragedy and Jisha’s murder case being strong testimonials,” she pointed out.


Experts led by Dr Soniya from RGCB were called to help solve the crime of brutal rape and murder of 29-year-old law student Jisha in April last year, a case that sent shockwaves not only in Kerala but in the entire country. DNA fingerprinting of a saliva sample from part of the dress worn by the victim-helped scientists to match it with the genetic profile of alleged culprit who is now undergoing trial.  


The Facility currently regularly handles cases involving parenthood assessment or crimes that are routed through judicial courts, Women’s Commission or the police. In cases of missing people, a complaint has to be registered with the enforcement authority before DNA fingerprinting tests can be carried out, Dr Soniya pointed out.  The facility has also recently helped two brothers track down their long-separated mother, and they are hopeful of getting reunited with her soon.



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