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Niños Desaparecidos: A Case Study about Genetics and Human Rights


Katayoun Chamany
Natural Sciences & Mathematics
Eugene Lang College/ New School University


This case study is based on the identification of 50 children who were displaced during Argentina’s Dirty War of the 1970s, subjected to DNA and protein analysis, and subsequently reunited with their biological families. The case demonstrates the relationship between society and science and the influences that each has on the other. In addition, the case serves to address the issues of genes in populations, ethnic diversity, statistical significance, bias in interpretation, and gene databanks. Students will learn that the identification of individuals using molecular markers can be a useful tool in certain situations but that each type of analysis has its limitations. The teaching notes outline two different ways the case can be taught, i.e., as either an interrupted case or according to a role-playing format. This case was used in a cell and molecular biology lab course for majors, and in a first year seminar for non-majors. The case can be adapted for courses in politics, history, and identity, as well as more advanced courses in genomics.


  • To teach students to ask good questions.
  • To provide an understanding of genetic diversity.
  • To provide an understanding of the molecular biology techniques involved.
  • To evaluate the applications and implications of basic genetic research in society.
  • To consider the social/moral implications of the potential risks involved.
  • To demand a critique of valid conclusions: method of interpretation and acceptable matches.
  • To promote the art of collaboration.


Genetics; DNA; DNA databanks; missing children; molecular markers; court evidence; human genome project; human rights; Argentina

Topical Areas

Ethics, Legal issues, Social justice issues, Women in science

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Interrupted, Role-Play



Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Science (General)  |   Sociology  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.