Game-changing genomic technology offers new investigative options for missing person cases.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (Ohio BCI) and Battelle announced today that we are working together to validate and implement massively parallel sequencing (MPS), also called next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology in Ohio BCI’s forensic laboratory. Implementing MPS technology will further position Ohio BCI as a national leader in DNA forensics and expand their future DNA testing capabilities to include investigations surrounding missing persons and unidentified human remains.
MPS represents the most significant advance in forensic DNA analysis over the past 20 years, capable of providing increased powers of discrimination and enhanced sensitivity while maintaining compatibility with existing DNA databases. It also introduces the potential to predict bio-geographic ancestral and appearance characteristics (eye color, hair color, etc.)—a valuable asset for generating investigative leads. Ohio BCI is using Battelle ExactID® software, a groundbreaking genomic analysis system that rapidly processes voluminous levels of sequencing data, producing accurate results of the highest quality.
The new MPS laboratory is being established within the Ohio BCI’s Laboratory Division facility in London, Ohio. Battelle scientists initiated the first phase of MPS training for BCI laboratory staff in November and early December of 2015. Installation of specialized MPS instrumentation, equipment and materials was completed in December, and was followed by a comprehensive on-site training program across the first half of 2016. Through this unique teaming arrangement, Ohio BCI will be able to respond to the increasing demand for DNA testing from law enforcement agencies throughout the state.
The project includes Battelle’s strategically designed systems integration program for MPS technologies, processes and workflows, which may be a resource for forensic laboratories advancing forward into this technology area.
“This will position BCI to be a national leader in DNA forensics,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “I am proud to work with Battelle on the future applications of this cutting-edge technology because it’s a clear benefit to Ohio families of missing loved ones. With NGS at BCI, we hope to generate faster DNA results and obtain an expanded range of DNA information to help investigators make identifications.”
Ohio BCI began using DNA analysis for forensics in 1998. The technology enables law enforcement to use DNA profiles to link a suspect to a crime scene or eliminate potential suspects quickly by using trace amounts of evidence. Further, Ohio BCI participates in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which links Ohio to a nationwide DNA database of millions of genetic profiles from crime scene evidence and convicted offenders. DNA profiles can be searched within the database in order to find an investigative lead. Ohio law requires DNA samples to be collected from adults arrested for a felony or anyone convicted of a felony. Massively parallel DNA sequencing technology promises to transform how future forensic DNA analysis will be performed.
“Ohio BCI has always been very forward looking in studying and embracing new and better ways to advance investigations and bring conclusion to cases,” said Michael Dickens of Battelle’s CBRNE Defense/Applied Genomics business line. “We are thrilled at this opportunity to work with and for Ohio BCI’s scientists and investigators to provide improved tools for their work.”
Advances in massively parallel sequencing stem from the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, which uncovered thousands of biomarkers that can be applied to DNA-based forensics. DNA has long been considered as objective evidence for forensic investigations. Traditionally, when DNA samples collected from a crime scene did not match the DNA of a potential suspect or samples from law enforcement databases, this would mean a setback for the investigation and potentially a dead-end for the DNA evidence. New MPS methods could allow law enforcement to draw important conclusions from the analysis of a single “unmatched” DNA sample, because this technology allows for the simultaneous typing of many more genetic markers.
Battelle is providing instrumentation, software, training and subject matter expertise to help Ohio BCI deploy, evaluate and validate MPS in their forensic laboratories. Employees from Battelle are being embedded in their London, Ohio facilities to support ongoing systems integration and validation activities. During the course of the project, Battelle will provide:
- MPS instrumentation
- ExactID® sequencing analysis software
- Methods and processes to integrate MPS into Ohio BCI’s existing workflows
- Validation to ensure Ohio BCI systems and workflows meet quality standards and accreditation requirements
- Education and training for Ohio BCI laboratory personnel
This will be the first time many of these technologies have been fully implemented in a working forensic laboratory. The Ohio BCI project will help to establish best practices and validate methods that can be applied in other forensic laboratories across the country.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has a staff of more than 400 employees within its four main divisions: laboratory, investigations, administration and identification. Ohio BCI operates three crime labs in Ohio, located in London, Bowling Green and Richfield, and processes more than 7,000 DNA cases each year. Over 19,000 offender investigative leads have been made by the Ohio database.