Even with modern science and DNA testing, we often hear of cases going cold. For these victims, it seems justice may never come, until now. A recent case of skeletal remains found during the summer of 2017 in Baltimore, appeared to be quickly going cold. Then, police were able to receive a lucky break by using a new DNA technology that uses a minimal amount of DNA to produce an image of what the person looks like. Using the provided image, police were able to identity the victim, leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer; finally giving the victim justice.
This visionary technology is enabling identifications of both victims, as well as perpetrators of crimes, as any DNA sample can be used to create a profile. This technology has helped solve multiple cases, some with a mere drop of blood.
This advanced technology works from the premise that DNA is comprised of detailed instructions for the manifestation of physical traits within an individual. Thus, a small sample enables many genetic options to be pulled and used to develop an informed prediction of what a person’s appearance may be.
A forerunner in this technology is Parabon NanoLabs who has been collaborating with police since 2015. This technology has been effective in as many as 40 cases and is quite pricey at roughly $3,000 per image.
This technology differs from the use of traditional DNA technology as it is considered to be DNA phenotyping. Traditional DNA technology is focused upon matching DNA collected at a crime scene with DNA collected from potential suspects. This new technology differs as a match with previously collected DNA is not necessary. Instead, the DNA creates an image and is used to identify a potential victim or perpetrator.
This technology is helping to prevent cases from going cold if crime scene DNA is not able to be matched with existing samples in police databases. The generated image can typically identify traits such as hair and eye color, which are helpful in the public identification of the person.
As promising as this new technology appears to be, it does have some known limitations. At this point, the science is new and therefore not 100% reliable; although, as knowledge of genomes continues to become more accurate, this method will become continuously more valuable to investigators. Additionally, the images the DNA provides can produce a potential image but cannot identify a person’s age or be used as a sole means to convict someone. This technology is mostly beneficial in helping police narrow and direct their search in a clearer direction.
Ultimately, this encouraging technology may be able to help solve cases more quickly and lessen the burden of past cold cases, as well as prevent future cases from going cold.