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Short Tandem Repeats (STRs)

The human genome is full of repeated DNA sequences. These repeated sequences come in various sizes and are classified according to the length of the core repeat units, the number of contiguous repeat units, and/or the overall length of the repeat region. DNA regions with short repeat units (usually 2-6 bp in length) are called Short Tandem Repeats (STR). STRs are found surrounding the chromosomal centromere (the structural center of the chromosomes). STRs have proven to have several benefits that make them especially suitable for human identification.

STRs have become popular DNA markers because they are easily amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) without the problem of differential amplification; that is, the PCR products for STRs are generally similar in amount, making analysis easier. An individual inherits one copy of an STR from each parent, which may or may not have similar repeat sizes. The number of repeats in STR markers can be highly variable among individuals, which make these STRs effective for human identification purposes.

For human identification purposes, it is important to have DNA markers that exhibit the highest possible variation in order to discriminate between samples. It is often challenging to obtain PCR amplification products from forensic samples because either the DNA in those samples is degraded, or mixed, such as in a sexual assault case.

The smaller size of STR alleles make STR markers better candidates for use in forensic applications, in which degraded DNA is common. PCR amplification of degraded DNA samples can be better accomplished with smaller target product sizes.

Because of their smaller size, STR alleles can also be separated from other chromosomal locations more easilyto ensure closely linked loci are not chosen. Closely linked loci do not follow the predictable pattern of random distribution in the population, making statistical analysis difficult.

STR alleles also have lower mutation rates, which makes the data more stable and predictable.

Because of these characteristics, STRs with higher power of discrimination are chosen for human identification in forensic cases on a regular basis. It is used to identify victim, perpetrator, missing persons, and others.

Beginning in 1996, the FBI Laboratory launched a nationwide forensic science effort to establish core STR loci for inclusion within the national database known as CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). The 13 CODIS loci are CSF1PO, FGA, TH01, TPOX, VWA, D3S1358, D5S818, D7S820, D8S1179, D13S317, D16S539, D18S51 and D21S11. These loci are nationally and internationally recognized as the standard for human identification.

The DDC Forensic Laboratory routinely uses the 13 CODIS loci and has additional loci for an extensive and powerful STR testing battery if required.