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How an IFS Officer & a DNA Expert Played a Key Role in the Blackbuck Conviction

How an IFS Officer & a DNA Expert Played a Key Role in the Blackbuck Conviction

Until 1999, the identification of animals in poaching cases could be done only through anthropological features.

Salman Khan has eluded law and order for the past two decades, and whether one likes it or not, it can conclusively be said that with his conviction, justice has finally been served.

However, had it not been for the breakthrough idea presented by one IFS officer and the incorporation of DNA-based technology to identify the poached animals, the celebrity would have possibly walked away without being convicted.

A central role in solving the case has to be attributed to Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting & Diagnostics (CDFD), and its scientists, whose intensive study that started in 1999 was presented as the lone standing evidence for the case.

Dr GV Rao (Source: Twitter) and Salman Khan (Source: Facebook).

According to Dr GV Rao, the former chief staff scientist at CDFD who had handled the black buck case when it came to the institute in 1999, the identification of animals in poaching cases used to be done only through anthropological features.

“However, a young Indian Forest Service officer, who exhumed the buried carcasses of the black bucks, was knowledgeable about the DNA-based technology used in human identification and sought CDFD’s help in the case,” he told The New Indian Express.

Dr Rao further added that it was the officer’s conviction that further propelled the course of the investigation on the DNA route.

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“The IFS officer said that only a scientifically-proven report establishing that the carcasses were that of black bucks would stand in court. This is because till then, the reports on the identification of animal carcasses used to involve giving results like ‘the carcass belongs to antelope family,’ which would not hold in the court,” he added.

Intrigued by the officer’s perspective, Dr Rao took on the responsibility and started the investigation by first collecting blood samples from the black bucks at Hyderabad zoo from which its DNA was extracted and then comparing it with the DNA samples of different antelope species.

Alongside, he had extracted DNA samples from the skins and bones of the exhumed carcasses to identify the species.

The endangered Black Buck. Source: Wikimedia.

With the help of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) method and the Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) technology, he was able to establish a unique strain in the DNA of black bucks, which then helped to confirm that the exhumed carcasses belonged to two different black bucks.

Dr Rao had used this piece of evidence to depose in the case, in 2000, and verified that the carcasses belonged to black bucks.

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Interestingly, this case led to the development of Universal Primer Technology (UPT) by Dr Sunil Kumar Verma and Dr Lalji Singh—the former had in fact worked with Dr Rao in the black buck case in CDFD.

UPT is a DNA barcoding method that can identify any bird, fish, reptile or mammal from a small biological sample, and satisfy the requirements for legal evidence, in a court of law. This technology has revolutionised the field of wildlife forensics and is now routinely used across India to provide a species identification service in cases of wildlife crime.

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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