Improved DNA Test Offers Powerful New Avenue for Forensic Investigations
Reston, Va. (6 Feb 2018) – Today, Parabon® NanoLabs (Parabon) announced a significant update to the company’s Snapshot® kinship inference service, which accurately predicts the degree of relatedness between pairs of DNA samples to aid law enforcement investigations. The updated service achieves greater precision through enhancements to the underlying machine learning algorithms and a large increase in the amount of data used to train them. Unlike traditional forensic DNA methods which are extremely limited in their ability to determine kinship, Snapshot uses hundreds of thousands of pieces of genetic information, enabling it to accurately detect even highly distant kinship relationships.
A diagram showing the range of Snapshot kinship inference compared to traditional forensic DNA kinship methods.
This unique service gives law enforcement a powerful new tool for improving the efficiency of investigations involving forensic DNA. Crime scene DNA can be compared to a victim or to consenting family members of a suspect to determine whether the perpetrator is related to either. DNA from unidentified remains can be compared to family members of a missing person, even if they are distant relatives, to help with identification. Whether the analysis finds that two individuals are related or unrelated, the service enables law enforcement agencies to focus their investigation by confirming or eliminating potential leads. Because results can be generated in a matter of weeks, or days for rush orders, investigators can begin evaluating qualified leads at the outset of an investigation and use their resources more effectively.
“It’s like a familial DNA search on a select group of people, except it has vastly greater power to detect relationships,” said Dr. Steven Armentrout, Parabon’s CEO. “For example, in cases where the perpetrator is suspected to be related to the victim, just one test with this technology, comparing the known DNA with DNA from the crime scene, could immediately clear the entire extended biological family or, conversely, implicate someone in the family, either way saving countless hours of investigation.” He noted, “Such efficiency gains lead to more cases being solved.”
The Snapshot kinship algorithms were developed by Parabon’s computational biologists as part of their research to develop new tools to assist the Armed Forces Medical Examiner identify the remains of missing U.S. Service Members from prior conflicts through DNA. The new algorithms can not only determine whether two DNA samples are from related individuals, they can also determine the degree of relatedness out to 6th-degree relatives (2nd cousins once removed) with extremely high accuracy. If no matches are found during the first scan, an expanded search is performed for extended inferences out to 9th-degree relatives (4th cousins). Snapshot’s kinship inference can be applied to individuals from any ethnic background and can even detect related individuals with different ethnic backgrounds. The service accepts forensic-scale quantities of DNA (1ng minimum) and supports screening of up to 48 subjects simultaneously for rapid throughput during urgent investigations.
Parabon’s Director of Bioinformatics, Dr. Ellen Greytak, believes Snapshot’s kinship service will be a boon to law enforcement, stating, “When investigators have DNA, but it doesn’t match a known suspect or a database, they are often left wondering what else they can do with it. Kinship inference can make a huge difference in criminal or missing-person cases where a relationship is suspected but cannot be confirmed by traditional techniques.” She added, “Once a lead is substantiated, the identity of the individual can be confirmed using standard DNA matching.”
Acknowledgement: Development of the Snapshot kinship inference algorithms has been sponsored in part by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the Department of Defense Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Emerging Capabilities and Prototyping, and the US Army Research Office, and some of the supporting research was performed in collaboration with the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory.