NOVA Online: Bombing of America

Mitochondrial DNA Testing on Hair

This kind of DNA testing studies the mitochrondrial DNA that is sometimes found in a strand of hair. The hair does need not have the root intact—the shaft itself is adequate.

Unlike regular DNA, which comes from both parents, mitochondrial DNA is passed down from mother to fetus. Mitochondrial DNA testing recently received wide attention when it was used to analyze skeletons believed to be the assassinated Romanov family. To learn more about this, be sure to watch our NOVA program, "Anastasia: Dead or Alive?," which will air on May 21, 1996.

Even though mitochondrial DNA testing is definitive, it is an expensive procedure. More importantly, the artifacts themselves—hair or bone—are especially susceptible to contamination. This type of testing tends not to be done on hair, since the quantity of mitochondrial DNA one can collect from a strand of hair is extremely small.

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