HYDERABAD: It was scientists from the Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) who played a crucial role in the conviction of Salman Khan. The killing of two blackbucks in Rajasthan which led to Salman Khan ending up behind bars on Thursday, actually heralded the era of usage of DNA-based technology in wildlife crimes in India.
Speaking to Express, Dr GV Rao, former chief staff scientist at CDFD, who handled Salman Khan case when it came to the CDFD in 1999, said, “Till the Salman Khan case, 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 blackbucks, was knowledgeable about DNA-based technology used in human identification and sought CDFD’s help in the case. “
Dr Rao said, “The IFS officer said that only a scientifically-proven report saying that the carcass was of blackbuck would stand in court as, till then, the reports on identification of animal carcasses, used to involve giving results like ‘the carcass belongs to antelope family’, which would not hold good in the court. It had to be proved that the carcass belonged to blackbuck.”
For identification of the species, Dr Rao extracted DNA samples from skins and bones of the exhumed carcasses.
Technology, for Salman Khan, definitely had a flip side. And in this case, the technology had a Hyderabad connect. It was an IFS officer who sought the help of Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) to utilise DNA to identify the animal in the poaching case.Scientists from CDFD, Hyderabad, played a crucial role here.
Dr GV Rao, former chief staff scientist, CDFD, took up the challenge and started off collecting blood samples from blackbucks at Hyderabad zoo from which its DNA was extracted and compared with DNA samples of different antelope species. He could then establish uniqueness in the DNA of Blackbucks, which helped in identification of exhumed carcasses to exactly belong to blackbuck species using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) method and using the Random Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) technology. It was identified that the carcasses belonged to two different blackbucks.
In 2000, he deposed in the court and presented the report proving that the carcasses belonged to blackbucks.However, it did not end there as, later, Dr Sunil Kumar Verma, who worked along with Dr Rao in the Salman Khan case in CDFD, moved to the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad and developed the Universal Primer Technology (UPT) along with Dr Lalji Singh.