By Paul Hemsley
Police investigators across Australia will soon have better access to the federal government’s national DNA database through a powerful new search engine that will allow detectives to match the genetic material of unidentified human remains at crime scenes and disaster sites and establish a possible family connection between individuals.
A tender issued by CrimTrac, which is responsible for developing and maintaining national information sharing services between the state, territory and federal law enforcement jurisdictions, reveals the agency is looking for a supplier to help police forensic labs extend their ability to find genetic matches.
As part of its service to other agencies, CrimTrac hosts the National Criminal Investigation DNA Database (NCIDD), which enables Australian police and authorised bodies to directly match DNA profiles nationally by comparing two DNA profiles to determine if they come from the same person.
Although sometimes controversial, DNA matching is widely regarded as the most significant leap in the forensic science of identification since fingerprinting and because it provides investigators with evidence that is usually hard enough to lead to either a conviction or release of a person accused of a crime.
But aside from justice, DNA evidence can also offer closure.
CrimTrac now wants to expand on its existing DNA skillset by creating a National DNA Investigative Capability (NDIC) which can be used in not only for criminal investigations, but also for disaster victim identification (DVI) and identifying previously unknown human remains.
CrimTrac calls it “kinship matching”, which examines profiles to “establish biological relationships among individuals” and is an approach that will be used in the identification of unidentified human remains across Australia.
If all other investigative leads have been exhausted, investigators will be able to do a search of the national database for potential relatives of the remains using a ‘relative’ index on the national database.
The grim process of identifying human remains at disaster sites like plane crashes or bomb blasts has always been a challenge for investigators because of the risk of misidentifying an individual – making DNA testing an invaluable tool in the absence of fingerprinting or dental record availability.
Testing processes for DNA identification have become easier for investigators through quick acting devices like the DNAscan technology from General Electric, launched in early September 2013.
The gadget is a printer-sized device that claims to reduce DNA identification from a matter of hours to only 85 minutes.