Lesson idea: National DNA Database

Should everyone in the UK be added to the National DNA Database?

Use our video as a classroom activity. We've provided some background information and some ideas for voting and discussion.

Background information

In the 1980s, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys developed DNA fingerprinting – a technique to create a unique numerical profile from a person’s DNA. He realised the potential this technology had to advance forensic science and in 1995 the National DNA Database was launched to allow the police to store DNA profiles. The UK database is now the largest in the world (as of 30 June 2009 there were 5,756,253 subject profiles on the database).

In England and Wales, DNA samples are taken from anyone arrested for a recordable offence (any offence for which a record will be kept on the Police National Computer). They are also collected from crime scenes. In England and Wales, the profile and original sample are kept for an indefinite amount of time if the person is convicted. In November 2009 the Home Office declared that the DNA profiles of innocent people must be destroyed after six years. In Scotland, most DNA profiles must be destroyed if the person is not charged or convicted, unless the person was charged with a serious sexual or violent offence (in which case, the records can be kept for between three and five years).

As explored in ‘Big Picture: Genes, Genomes and Health’, the vast majority of DNA is exactly the same between individuals, but there are small variations. For the purpose of the database, non-coding regions of DNA called short tandem repeats are examined to create profiles. These profiles can be used to identify a person’s sex but cannot be used to gain any information on a person’s health. The chance of two unrelated individuals having matching profiles is less than 1 in a billion.

Lesson activities

Introduction

What does your class know about the National DNA Database? Have your students heard about it on the news? You may wish to consider the following facts:

  • 78.44 per cent of subject profiles on the England and Wales database are male (as of June 2008).
  • Almost 45,000 black children aged 10 to 17 in England and Wales (about 23 per cent of all black children in the age group) have been added to the database in the past five years. This compares to 10 per cent of white youths of the same age.
  • Between 1 April 2007 and 31 March the DNA database played a role in solving 33,034 crimes including homicides, rapes, violent offences and burglaries.
  • It would cost an estimated £700 million to set up the National Database with everybody’s DNA profile.

Voting

Ask students for their initial thoughts on whether everyone in the UK should be added to the National DNA Database. This will be repeated at the end to see if opinions have changed.

Video

Watch the National DNA Database video to hear a range of views about adding everyone to the DNA database.

You might like to consider the following questions:

  • Do you think it should be compulsory for everyone’s DNA to be stored on the database?
  • Should there even be a database at all?
  • Should the database be held by the police, or should it be independent?

Group discussion

Have any of the views in the video challenged what your students think? Ask them to work in groups and come up with a list of reasons why everyone should be added to the database and a list of reasons why they shouldn’t. Then ask them to share their ideas with the class.

Final vote

Ask students to vote again on whether everyone in the UK should be added to the National DNA Database – have their views changed? If so, why?

Downloadable resources

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Genes, Genomes and Health’ in January 2010.

Topic:
Genetics and genomics
Issue:
Genes, Genomes and Health
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development