New DNA Test To Aid Cold Cases

Thursday, February 24, 2011 - 12:34pm

Utah company develops test that can help police determine racial makeup of unidentified DNA samples.

New technology is being developed in a Salt Lake City, Utah lab that could help police departments all across the country.

Sorenson Forensics has created an ancestry DNA test to try and help police investigators get additional clues for their departments' cold cases.

"This really is brand new stuff," said Lars Mouritsen, chief scientific officer for Sorenson Forensics. "There are some other tests that have been developed that are similar in some respects, but none of those really are focused for the forensics industry."

It's a test that has been in the works for the past few years.

Using genetic samples, Mouritsen's team can get a better idea of what someone may look like.

"You have maybe DNA from a suspect, but you have no idea what the suspect looks like and no other leads. It will take a person and it will basically look at what their affinity is to anyone of these five populations," said Mouritsen.

Those five populations, or ethnic groups, are African, Asian, Indian subcontinent, Indigenous Americas, and Western European.

The test won't give police an exact picture of what someone looks like, but it can help give investigators a better idea, or, maybe more importantly, possibly eliminate certain ethnicities.

"This is just another piece of technology that will help us in the evidence," said Unified Police Department Lt. Justin Hoyle. "It'll certainly help us in solving our cold case homicides and narrowing down our suspect pool."

Hoyle says volunteers from his office were part of an experiment with Sorenson Forensics.

DNA oral swabs were taken, and the results were pretty much spot on.

"Right now, we're claiming that it's about 97 percent or greater," said Mouritsen.

Sorenson Forensics is showcasing its new technology to police departments at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences convention happening in Chicago this week.

Already, some police departments are showing in interest in this technology.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm about this test," said Mouritsen. "One detective told our guy he has a bunch of DNA samples he would love to send us."

When it comes to cold cases, police say any clue helps.

"It'll also help us when we have some unidentified remains. It could help narrow down that victim and maybe tell us what that person is we're trying to identify," said Hoyle. "You never know what it could lead to."

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