National Institute of Justice Study Report on Forensic Genomics

Biothreat Genomics ResearchIn the increasingly interconnected and complex world, the ability to uniquely identify individuals, generate investigative leads, and attribute trace-level evidence are becoming essential for intelligence applications, national security, and criminal justice.

In 2015, the National Institute of Justice awarded Battelle, the world’s largest independent research and development organization, a 19-month applied research project to evaluate the feasibility of Massively Parallel Sequencing (MPS) technology, also known as Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), for forensic science applications. Battelle enlisted participation from prominent operational forensic laboratories spanning city, county, state and federal levels, and laboratories in research and academia.

Battelle anticipates that the data from this study, combined with the critical insight from participating thought leaders of the forensic DNA community, will facilitate the development of a strategic roadmap for eventual implementation of MPS to support law enforcement and the criminal justice community.

DNA analysis has become a critical part of the forensic toolkit over the last few decades. However, traditional capillary electrophoresis (CE) used in most crime labs has significant limitations, especially when it comes to analyzing unknown, degraded or mixed samples. MPS is a newer sequencing technology that can vastly increase the speed, processing power and resolution of DNA sequencing compared to CE. However, before it can be used as evidence for forensic investigations, the technology must be validated for use in criminal forensic laboratories.

The Battelle-led NIJ study evaluated the use of MPS technologies in eight forensic laboratories across the country. In Phase I (Performance Testing), Battelle researchers evaluated commercially available MPS products and developed standard operating procedures and workflows to be used across all of the participating laboratories. In Phase II (Inter-Laboratory Testing), standardized samples provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) were sent to each of the participating laboratories for analysis.

A comprehensive review of the Phase II results showed that MPS produces data that is “robust, reliable, reproducible and sensitive.” Laboratories performing the same workflows and using the same instruments and software produced results that were concordant with each other. In addition, the genotypes obtained through MPS were consistent with data obtained through CE typing. The results indicate that the MPS technologies and workflows studied produce results that are accurate and reliable for criminal forensic investigations.

According to Rich Guerrieri and Mark Wilson, Research Leaders within Battelle’s Applied Genomics business line, MPS could greatly expand the scope of applications for forensic genomic analysis. “This expanded resolution, along with advances in our ability to read and understand genomic information, allows MPS to provide meaningful information from unknown samples even when they do not produce a match in a forensic database, they said. “It also makes MPS more useful for analysis of highly degraded or mixed samples that often fail to produce results using CE. Battelle is continuing work to optimize MPS methods for forensic investigation and assist forensic DNA laboratories in incorporating the new technology.”

Battelle will share the results of the study in a webinar on June 27 at 2PM ET. Those interested can register for free webinar here.

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