Louisiana's four steps to identification

The Louisiana State Police subject DNA to a multistep process to achieve the most accurate identification possible of unclaimed human remains. Service providers at each step record data and give the remains, sample DNA and their part of the analysis a number that is added to the original unique identifier in an accessioning process. Ever-lengthening numbers are carried forward, so data can be tracked backward.

'If there is a problem in the analysis, we can point back to where in the system the problem happened based on where we see the feature and what tracking numbers are involved,' said Stephen Sherry, staff scientist at the National Library of Medicine's National Center for Biotechnology Information.

Sherry described the steps Louisiana takes to identify unclaimed remains:

1 The coroner and scientists perform a morgue analysis, entering data through a victim identification profile program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency using its postmortem component, which includes noting the physical characteristics, studying radiology, dental and toxicology work-ups, and extracting DNA. Technicians perform a biopsy of the body to obtain a sample, such as a small piece of the tibia or leg bone, for DNA extraction.

2 Scientists log in the bone fragment as material evidence and provide a chain of custody. The lab has its own IT support to manage the flow of material. The bone piece is cleaned, prepped and subdivided, and sent to two typing labs, one in Virginia and one in Budapest, Hungary.

3 These labs pulverize a section of bone and treat it with chemicals to release the DNA. A scientist takes a portion of the solution with an eyedropper to type it, run a profile'maybe two or three times'and release data and several amplifications of the 13 markers of the genome. There might be more than one interpretation: One piece of bone could possibly generate six to 10 data files.

4 Scientists in Louisiana's IT system check the data files for agreement. Scientists can run NIH's OSIRiS quality-control software to evaluate and, if necessary, get a second interpretation, perhaps with new settings, assumptions and criteria. In Louisiana, profiles get stored in a master database of all the profiles of the project.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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