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DNA profiler

The Forensic Science Service has launched software technology that can obtain DNA profiles from previously unusable samples, a development that could lead to the reopening of thousands of cold cases.

The UK’s Forensic Science Service (FSS) has launched software technology that can obtain DNA profiles from mixed or poor quality samples.

According to FSS research manager Martin Bill, the technology - called DNAboost - could prompt police forces to reopen many thousands of cold cases where DNA evidence was weak or not statistically strong enough to be searched against the National DNA Database (NDNAD).

In a three-month pilot study conducted by police forces in Humberside, Northumbria and South and West Yorkshire, DNAboost increased by 25 per cent the number of searchable profiles from the 2,000 samples used in the trial.

The FSS handles around 100,000 DNA samples a year. Of this figure, approximately 10 per cent of samples are deemed unusable because they contain DNA from more than one person, which could have come from blood and saliva as well as skin flakes, dandruff and sweat.

In these circumstances it can be difficult to unscramble the mixtures of DNA found at the crime scene.

DNAboost works by unscrambling the DNA to produce DNA peak data that is then checked against the NDNAD.

According to FSS, the introduction of DNAboost is the biggest step change in DNA analysis and interpretation since it developed Low Copy Number DNA, which allowed scientists to obtain a DNA profile from minute samples of cellular material.

Bill cautioned that DNAboost is not ‘a full black box solution’ to solving cold cases on police files as results returned by DNAboost must still be interpreted by scientists.

However, FSS maintain that using DNAboost in conjunction with Low Copy Number DNA could double the number of cold cases that could now be solved.

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