The need and importance of a national Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) databank for a rapidly growing nation like Nigeria cannot be overemphasized.
DNA databank has been proven to be very useful in almost all spheres of life but particularly useful in the healthcare and security sectors.
A good example of the importance of a DNA databank is the June 3, 2012 Dana air crash in Nigeria which killed nearly 200 persons. This incident though it occurred over a fortnight ago, the medical practitioners in charge of identifying the badly burnt Dana plane crash passengers for onward claim and burial rites by the families are still having a hard time in carrying out this task because of the unavailability of a dedicated DNA databank of the citizens.
There were even embarrassing instances where two families of victims in the plane crash engaged in fisticuffs over a corpse which both parties claimed was theirs. This kind of situation would not even arise if Nigeria had a databank to provide such information in case of emergency.
Relating DNA to the unfortunate incident involving the Dana Airline, the Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Prof. Bamidele Solomon said that the victims of the crash could have been easily identified if there was a DNA database of the victims.
He said this during a training workshop on the theoretical and practical courses on Basic Techniques in DNA Isolation, Manipulation and Application organised by NABDA in collaboration with the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), for Biotechnology and Forensic Scientists in Africa and beyond.
He noted that a DNA databank would have been a veritable tool for efficient and effective release of bodies of the victims of the plane crash.
He said: “DNA is a history book that can tell the origin of any species and it is unique to any individual; so we can isolate every species even one on one. That is where the relevance of it comes into play in the case of our recent unfortunate incidence of plane crash; the DNA fingerprinting would have been a veritable tool in that particular occasion.
``It is important that we have a national databank of all the populations in a place so in case of this issue, it’s just once we get any piece we can just match it right away going back to the database.
``That is the reason why the agency is working with the National Defence Academy to ensure we develop forensic DNA finger printing technology in the country.”
Highlighting the importance of a DNA databank with regards to maintain security and stability in the nation, the DG said forensic experts can use DNA to investigate crimes.
Bamidele said: “In developed countries, they do not have problems with fishing out questionable elements in the society because they have a relatively efficient and effective DNA databank which they match with suspects to decipher if they were guilty of a crime.
“It makes life easy for those on the job because it is even admissible in court and it can also be used to settle some health related issues like settling of paternal disputes.”
The NABDA helmsman posited that DNA databank was so versatile and not only related to health or security but was also relevant in the agricultural sector.
He said that it was already common knowledge even among rural farmers that some species of cassava contained c yanide which could become dangerous depending on the level of consumption.
``Even at the local level, we knew these species, so the issue now is for us to be able to have markers because there are markers that can help us know which one can produce cyanide.
``There are techniques now by which the Nitrogen that are being used to form cyanide may be channelled to produce even protein so you can have cassava that is now rich in protein instead of being rich in cyanide.”
In her remarks, a doctor from the Trent University, Canada, Dr Cornelya Kleutsch, explained DNA as the blueprint of all cells, the component in the human body that that contains all the information.
She said that the purpose of the training was to teach the trainees how to get and analyse DNAs from any kind of material such as hair, blood, stem cells.
She said the trainees would also learn how to isolate and analyse DNAs to establish basic understanding of species.
“It would help to establish a basic understanding of how to isolate DNA, how to analyse it and this will help in essence to establish a group of scientists that are able to help with forensic applications.
“If there has been a crime committed, they can use DNA analysis to find the person who did the crime. If you are interested in biotechnology and in agriculture, it will help to understand how we can yield better crops that yield more so that we then can battle things like hunger in the World.
The two-week training had participants drawn from African and Asian countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Sudan, Tunisia, Tanzania, Pakistan and Bangladesh.