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USING SCIENCE TO SOLVE CRIMES
Regional mtDNA Labs Open for Business

01/30/06

Biologist prepares bone for mtDNA analysis
A regional mtDNA biologist from Arizona prepares a human bone for mitochondrial DNA analysis.

In December 1976, campers discovered the badly decomposed remains of a young girl in a heavily wooded area of the Florida Keys. Despite an exhaustive effort by local police, the girl could not be identified and the investigation was relegated to the "cold case" file.

Fast forward to July 2004: Using a forensic technique undeveloped in 1976—analysis of maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, residing outside the nucleus of human cells—scientists at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, helped identify the young girl as a Florida teenager who had disappeared nine months before her remains were found.

That and similar mtDNA success stories are why, in early November, we were pleased to announce that regional crime labs in Arizona, Minnesota, and New Jersey have now been fully equipped by the FBI Laboratory to offer free mtDNA analysis to law enforcement agencies nationwide, with a fourth lab in Connecticut set to open this spring.

Thanks to this partnership, the nation's capacity to perform mtDNA analysis is expected to more than double in fiscal year 2006. So why is this important? Because in cases where we can obtain only small or degraded quantities of DNA—such as with old or charred remains—and nuclear DNA (which resides inside the nucleus of human cells) exams aren't possible, we can compare mtDNA samples from hair, bones, or teeth to the mtDNA in blood and/or saliva samples from victims, suspects, or relatives of missing persons to see if there's a match. (To read more about what mtDNA analysis is, when we use it, and why it's such a valuable tool, see our top story of September 13, 2004).

How does our partnership with the regional crime labs work? The labs—the Arizona Department of Public Safety Central Crime Laboratory, the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Forensic Science Laboratory, and the New Jersey State Police Crime Laboratory—accept requests for mtDNA analysis from law enforcement agencies in the areas they serve and take referrals from us. We ensure that the analyses meet quality standards mandated by Congress as well as pay for their related salaries, supplies, and travel for testimony in court.

What does all this mean to you and your communities? Simply put, more missing persons identified and more valuable information for solving violent crime and terrorism cases.

Resources: National press release | The FBI Lab