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On-the-spot DNA identification a step closer

Scene-of-the-crime DNA identification which takes the lab to the scene has come a step closer with the development of a new, highly portable method for obtaining a partial forensic profile in under an hour reports Cath O’Driscoll in the latest issue of Chemistry & Industry magazine, published by SCI, the society where science meets business.

The method, which uses fluorescent probes to analyse DNA, promises to rapidly include or exclude a suspect from an investigation, according to its developers at LGC in Teddington, UK. It reduces the time for DNA screening of individuals to about one hour, compared with three days for standard full DNA profiling in most specialist forensics laboratories.

Conventional DNA profiles currently look for 10 non-coding short tandem repeat (STR) regions of DNA, capable of identifying an individual with a one-in-a-billion accuracy. The new method is designed to interrogate just five STR regions, providing roughly one-in-a-million identification. This is more than sufficient for a preliminary screen to quickly rule in or out a suspect and is compatible with the UK’s national DNA database, according to LGC.

The process is designed to work by using fluorescent probes that produce different colours when they bind to their complementary DNA target regions, explains Paul Debenham, director, innovation and development at LGC.

So far, researchers have used the approach to analyse each STR target individually, using a single green fluorescent probe: proof of principle that the approach works. Ultimately, however, the aim is to develop a one-pot process whereby all five STRs can be interrogated together, using a variety of probes that each fluoresce different colours.

Debenham says: ‘Developing a robust system for use by police officers will take some work, but I am hopeful that the method should be up and running’ in a couple of years.’

However, Adrian Linacre, a forensic science researcher at the University of Strathclyde warned that, ‘an issue to be resolved is that a DNA profile is only of relevance if it can be compared to a known source such as a suspect or victim.’

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