Amazing technology that can really help out investigators. It also goes to show that DNA analysis really is done “by machine.” Soon to be gone are the times of “DNA experts” only to be replaced by “DNA Analyzer Operators” — very similar to breath test operators in DUI investigations.
How long into the future? I don’t know, but with the high costs associated with DNA analysis, both due to the reagents and testing supplies, and the expensive labors costs associated with crime labs, field DNA analysis is sure to be a big hit.
Original article here:
Handheld DNA testing machines will revolutionise the investigation of murder, rape and other serious crime by producing results from the national database within an hour.
“Rapid DNA” technology will enable detectives to test material at the scene of a crime or in a police station and eliminate the need to send it to a laboratory.
A Whitehall briefing paper discusses the use of portable equipment for DNA analysis in one hour rather than three or four days with the longer-term aim of reducing the testing time to 30 minutes.
The development, described as a “step change in the speed of DNA analysis”, will be piloted by British police forces next year and save many millions of pounds.
On the front line of criminal investigation, fast-track DNA should immediately lead to quicker identification of suspects, giving detectives the edge over a criminal on the run or linking a prisoner to a crime scene.
More than 37,300 crimes produced DNA database matches in 2007-08, including 363 homicides, 540 rapes, 163 other sex offences and almost 1,800 violent incidents.
One of the fastest DNA turnarounds to date in a big British investigation was achieved in the case of the Ipswich prostitute murders in 2006. A team from the Forensic Science Service (FSS) was on duty around the clock, analysing material from the five bodies and the places where they were found.
Despite the intensive effort, it took three days from swabs from the body of Anneli Alderton, the third victim, being submitted to a laboratory to the confirmation of a match with Steve Wright, the killer. Wright, whose DNA profile was on the database after a conviction for theft, is serving life for the murders.
The attempt to speed up the DNA-matching process that caught Wright has provoked strong competition between forensic science providers in Britain and the United States.
Two British companies and three American ones are developing prototypes. One of those is understood to be the FSS’s “DNA-in-a-box” product, which is a desktop machine that would be kept in a police station custody suite.
At government level, the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) in London and the FBI in Washington are liaising over how to evaluate the different machines. Officials from the United States visited London this month and a British team will go to Washington in November.
In addition to identifying criminals, the technology will also enable police to determine swiftly whether the person they are looking for has left DNA material at other crime scenes. Rapid DNA can also speed up the elimination of people from inquiries and lead to much quicker identification of bodies recovered after accidents or terrorist attacks.
Any high-speed process will, however, require the approval of the Home Office Forensic Science Regulator and the DNA Ethics Group. There are likely to be concerns that police officers should be properly trained in using the techniques and in avoiding the dangers of contamination of evidence at crime scenes or busy police custody areas.
“This development will be a huge leap forward for frontline policing,” Chief Constable Peter Neyroud, head of the NPIA, said. “It will cut bureaucracy, make DNA as quick as fingerprint analysis and tell police immediately whether their suspect is connected to a crime scene and if he can be connected to any other offences.
“This kit could mean the difference between life and death because of its ability to match an individual’s DNA against the database in an hour rather than three or four days, as is currently the case.”
Gary Pugh, director of forensic services at Scotland Yard, said that he envisaged the new technique being deployed initially in custody suites where prisoners’ swabs could be quickly checked against the database.
“Routinely, because of processes such as transporting samples to the lab, it takes a few days to get a result,” Mr Pugh said. “If you really push it in an urgent case, you can get a six-hour turnaround time. But this new technology will bring potentially great benefits for investigating crime.”
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