New Tools Find
DNA Needles in
Innovative forensic technologies
help investigators identify offenders’
specific traits from mounds of data.
Elusive criminals are about to meet heir match. Advances in foren- sic DNA profiling soon will give investigators and analysts the abil-
ity to pull genetic data once con-
sidered disposable. The break-
through allows law enforcement
to generate information such as
gender, hair and eye color, ethnicity
and geographic origin from the DNA
samples of perpetrators who otherwise
might evade detection if they were not
part of a DNA database. Gone are the
days when nonmatching DNA samples
signified a dead end.
ExactID, proprietary software created
by Battelle, an independent nonprofit
research and development organization, provides investigators
new and improved tools to determine criminals’ specific, identifying traits and helps analysts make
sense of mounds of DNA-related forensic data. Battelle scientists completed
about five years of testing to discover the
right combination for a breakthrough
in next-generation sequencing (NGS),
which is part of the software.
“It’s a new technology that looks at
a lot of different fragments of DNA
sequencing, putting them all together
into one instrument,” says Mark
Wilson, an experienced genomics
researcher and a master technician who
leads research and development for Battelle’s NGS technologies.
The NGS is a significant improvement over sequencing technologies
such as capillary electrophoresis, or CE,
which usually produces a DNA profile of 20 to 25 identifying markers in
one run, he explains. The NGS can distinguish upward of 230 markers. “The
sheer amount of data that it provides is
orders of magnitude greater than the
current technology,” Wilson says.
The new technology takes apart each
DNA molecule and provides a precise
sequence for each one, resulting in much
greater fidelity of information. “It allows
forensic analysts to start looking at a
number of other markers that traditionally have not been available to forensic typing,” Wilson says. With that level
of detail, investigators can discern not
only hair and eye color, but also a person’s facial structure, ethnic and racial
Researcher Elizabeth Montano
prepares DNA samples to be
analyzed by next-generation
sequencing (NGS) technology.
She has performed forensic
genomics research and
development at Battelle in
Columbus, Ohio, for three years.