Graphic: Cathleen Heard
Law enforcement officials routinely use DNA fingerprinting as a tool to get the guilty punished. Defense lawyers often rely on the same tool to free the innocent. Though their labs may be less dramatic settings than criminal courtrooms, life science researchers also use DNA fingerprinting, but rather than capturing criminals, their goal is to keep tabs on a different sort of culprit: infectious disease. The technology has revolutionized the way diseases are tracked and the way the epidemiologist, molecular biologist, and public health official interact.

Infectious disease researchers use DNA fingerprinting--a collection of methods for detecting organisms' unique DNA patterns--to track and confirm the spread of diseases. Fingerprinters usually compare either the genetic sequences of organisms or the size of nucleic acid fragments that have been digested with special enzymes.

Fingerprinting has helped in investigating any number of organisms. Researchers use it to study the resurgence of...

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