Of Sheep and Grapes: DNA Fingerprinting Tracks Ancestry

Since the mid-1980s, variations on the DNA fingerprinting theme have left their marks on diverse fields. By comparing distinctive DNA sequences, aberrations, or numbers of repeats among individuals, investigators have matched suspects to crime scenes and parents to offspring; assembled body parts in the aftermath of disasters; identified kidnap victims, Thomas Jefferson's son, and the remains of Tsar Nicholas' family, who were executed in 1918; and exonerated 64 prisoners, including nine on dea

Ricki Lewis
Sep 26, 1999

Since the mid-1980s, variations on the DNA fingerprinting theme have left their marks on diverse fields. By comparing distinctive DNA sequences, aberrations, or numbers of repeats among individuals, investigators have matched suspects to crime scenes and parents to offspring; assembled body parts in the aftermath of disasters; identified kidnap victims, Thomas Jefferson's son, and the remains of Tsar Nicholas' family, who were executed in 1918; and exonerated 64 prisoners, including nine on death row. Two current applications of DNA sequence comparisons are strikingly similar in their goals--identifying founding parents--but with very different subjects: sheep and grapes.

Gary Sojka calls himself "the oldest postdoc in academia." The 58-year-old former president of Bucknell University and dean of arts and sciences at Indiana University is a microbial biochemist with an impressive publication record. He is presently a professor of biology at Bucknell.

In 1996, Sojka switched gears in a major way--he became a...