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Real-time DNA Investigation

Perlin, M.W. Real-time DNA investigation in the Proceedings of Promega's Sixteenth International Symposium on Human Identification. Dallas, TX, 2005.


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Abstract: DNA technology can connect a crime scene profile to a DNA databank reference profile, thereby identifying a previously unknown suspect to the crime. When this DNA matching process is driven by police investigations (as in the United Kingdom), criminals can be identified within days, and then rapidly apprehended. Such a "DNA-led policing" approach can reduce crime by removing active criminals from society before they can commit more crimes.

DNA laboratory automation has introduced robotic batch processing that can transform biological specimens into informative data in less than a day. However, the task of human data review, interpretation, matching and reporting often takes months. To complete DNA investigations within 48 hours, it would be useful to have a computer system that can perform these information processing tasks (and deliver investigative leads) within several hours.

Cybergenetics TrueAllele® System 3 is an automated computer-based system that interprets DNA evidence into profiles, matches these profiles against other profiles, and delivers profile and match results to end-users via Internet. The system can be distributed across multiple locations, with DNA interpretation, match and reporting occurring simultaneously for different cases on different computers that share a coordinating database. Doubling the number of interpretation computers halves the processing time. Once a case's DNA peak information has been uploaded to the TrueAllele database, all downstream processing can proceed automatically without human intervention.

We have been scientifically assessing TrueAllele System 3 in several real-time DNA investigative applications. Useful measures for comparing the computer against current manual systems include speed, accuracy, capacity, information, labor and cost. For property crimes, we have looked at the system's interpretation, match and reporting of crime scene samples against an offender database. As reported previously at the 2003 Promega Symposium, the mixture analysis functionality can rapidly infer profiles from unknown-suspect sexual assault data; these DNA profiles are highly informative (relative to human review) and can be automatically matched against offender databases. We have also applied the system to the World Trade Center (WTC) mass disaster, where the problem has analogous elements of inferring crime scene profiles from the victim remains, forming a reference database of missing person profiles (from effects and relatives), and matching the victim remain profiles against the reference profiles to make connections.

This paper introduces TrueAllele System 3 and describes its distributed Internet architecture for DNA interpretation, matching and reporting. We describe results for our real-time property crime, sexual assault and mass disaster studies. We present assessment measures that characterize how the system produces informative identifications in real time. Applying these measures to STR study data, we show that our fully automated TrueAllele computer system is 1,000 times faster, 1,000 times better and 1,000 times cheaper than the current computer-assisted human alternative. Real-time DNA investigation can reduce crime, and provide high capacity for eliminating DNA backlogs.