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11-Sep-2021

Cybergenetics 9/11 mass disaster TrueAllele technology revolutionized forensic DNA databasing


On September 11th, twenty years ago in New York City (NYC), airborne terrorists crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center (WTC), killing 2700 people. Over 18,000 victim remains were collected from the scene. The forensic task was to associate these victim remains with the 2700 missing people. The DNA analysis began.

But older manual ways of interpreting the DNA data were not up to the task. Data was discarded, and identification information lost. So, in 2005, the NYC crime lab asked Pittsburgh-based Cybergenetics to solve the problem using their revolutionary computer-based TrueAllele probabilistic genotyping. Unlike manual analysis, TrueAllele can use all the DNA data and consider all the genotype possibilities, preserving match information.

On September 9th, Cybergenetics Chief Scientist Dr. Mark Perlin spoke at Duquesne University’s Wecht Institute of Forensic Science & Law Annual Symposium about "How TrueAllele® Computing Automates DNA Analysis and Databasing for Mass Disasters." Long before anyone had heard of "probabilistic genotyping," Cybergenetics delivered the world’s most powerful genotyping and database solution. Dr. Perlin explained how TrueAllele cracked the WTC DNA.

His talk describes the TrueAllele WTC project. How Cybergenetics built a supercomputer around a DNA match database, coordinating parallel genotype processing. How TrueAllele combined family DNA and personal effects to get the most information about the missing people. And combined multiple DNA tests on victim remains for informative genotypes.

The story is told around Sarah, a fictitious WTC victim. How the terrorists tore Sarah from her family, and reduced her body to rubble. But how TrueAllele computing then worked to associate Sarah’s DNA remains with her family and personal effect DNA, to bring her home. Through Sarah, we can see every step of the TrueAllele mass disaster process.

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