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FBI Develops Technology for Advanced Forensic Applications

New tools to improve DNA testing.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Federal Bureau of Investigation awarded two contracts to develop specific aspects of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) technology for additional forensic DNA testing applications.

The goal of the two contracts is to develop new forensic tools that will increase the ability of investigators to identify individuals using DNA samples that have degraded and therefore contain a limited amount of genetic material. Work is expected to be completed in about one year.

An SNP represents a single base difference in the more than three billion bases of DNA comprising the human genome and is the most common form of genetic variation. Since each person has a distinctive set of SNPs, SNP panels can be useful for identifying individuals using degraded or damaged DNA primarily because they can generate definitive matches using much shorter segments of DNA than other approaches.

The first contract to Orchid Cellmark is to develop an informative panel of SNP markers that can identify male DNA by measuring polymorphisms on the Y chromosome, the chromosome found only in men. This panel is designed to generate a profile of human male DNA from degraded samples, and is expected to be particularly useful in constructing the male profile in samples that contain mixtures of DNA from both a man and a woman. The contract is titled "Identification and Typing of Y-SNPs in Forensically Relevant Populations."

The Y-SNP panel could also potentially be used as a screening tool to derive broad physical characteristics based on information about a suspect's ancestral origin. These physical characteristics could be useful in so-called "no-suspect" crimes where investigators have DNA evidence but no other clues to identify possible perpetrators.

The second contract, also to Orchid, is to develop an expanded panel of robust SNP markers that will nearly double the number of SNPs the company currently uses, thereby potentially increasing its ability to identify individuals using degraded DNA. Titled "High-throughput Autosomal SNP Typing for Human Identification," this effort will build on the assay the company previously developed to help identify World Trade Center victims.
Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.