Bones: Improved Technology is Bringing Loved Ones Home

21537407 - archeology, human bonesToday’s Promega Connections blog is written by guest blogger Rachel H. Oefelein, QA Manager/Senior DNA Analyst at DNA Labs International. 

Shakespeare said, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”  This is continually true in the case of unidentified remains throughout the United States.  The action of a person going missing or the events leading to an individual’s demise are frequently the memory that haunts a town or the media for years to come. However, for each such case, somewhere lies a set of skeletal remains not yet found, or just as tragic, recovered but still unidentified.  The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) estimates approximately 40,000 sets of unidentified skeletal remains linger in morgues around the country or that have been cremated and buried as Jane and John Does.

Many crime labs do not have protocols in place for the extraction of DNA from skeletal remains or have outdated protocols for bone extraction that are not sensitive enough for poor quality bones. Bones are often recovered from harsh environments and have been exposed to extreme heat, time, acidic soil, swamp, chemicals treatment, etc. These harsh environmental conditions degrade the DNA present in the remains which further complicates the already difficult procedure of releasing the DNA in cells buried deep within the bone matrix. Another challenge is that cases often involve recovery of skeletal remains in areas with animal activity, water recoveries and scenes involving explosions or fires; these case types may require re-association of dozens if not hundreds of bones and bone fragments. Continue reading

Addressing the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog: Defining the Problem, Creating Solutions

general tweet from USA article

This post was contributed by  guest blogger Tara Luther in the Genetic Identity group at Promega.

In July 2015, USA Today formed a partnership with journalists from over 75 Gannett-owned newspapers and TEGNA television stations to “perform the most detailed nationwide inventory of untested rape kits ever.” This article told the stories of rape victims who had lost hope of seeing the perpetrators of their assaults ever being brought to justice, even though DNA evidence was collected at the crime and was waiting to be analyzed.

The journalists working on this story uncovered more than 70,000 neglected rape kits in an open-records campaign that covered more than 1,000 police agencies. The story notes that “despite its scope, the agency-by-agency count cover[ed] a fraction of the nation’s 18,000 police departments, suggesting the number of untested rape kits reach[ed] into the hundreds of thousands.”

tweet 3The USA Today effort led not only to national reporting but also to many local stories as well.

EndTheBackLog.org is a program sponsored by the Joyful Heart Foundation aimed at getting policy makers and prosecutors to address the large numbers of untested rape kits in the United States. They hope by researching to identify the extent of the backlog and publicizing that research they will begin a dialog at local, state and national levels that will lead to solutions for addressing it. The USA Today story and local stories have grown out of their efforts to call attention to this problem. Continue reading