The Australian Federal Police (AFP) are using a new tech that makes predictions of visual traits out of DNA. That is, it can determine stuff like your eye colour purely from DNA left behind at a crime scene. Yikes.
The AFP on Sunday said the new tech opens a new world of forensic DNA testing for criminal investigation.
It’s known as Massively Parallel Sequencing (MPS). The AFP said it can provide predictions for visual traits of criminals from the DNA they leave at a crime scene, allowing investigators to predict gender, biogeographical ancestry and eye colour. Soon, they said, it will be able to predict hair colour.
Biographical ancestry prediction compares DNA to a reference library of three ancient human population groups, the AFP said. It also said it may help exclude persons of interest.
According to the AFP, MPS works by examining the nucleotide base sequence of the DNA that is present in samples collected at crime scenes. This is the fundamental code for all living things, including humans.
Current DNA profiling technologies for human identification examine the length variations on the human genome, but MPS examines the nucleotide sequence of those regions, making MPS more informative than traditional DNA profiling.
In a statement, the AFP said the true power of the tech comes from its ability to obtain leads from DNA when the perpetrator is unknown and there is no matching profile on a law enforcement DNA database.
“The AFP has been carefully testing and assessing MPS to ensure its accuracy, prior to any use in forensic investigations. This validation for use in forensic analysis is an Australian first for law enforcement,” it said, adding, “The platform also has application in missing persons and unidentified human remains cases.”
The AFP is also currently working with academia and Geoscience Australia to develop MPS capabilities to analyse environmental DNA (eDNA) as a forensic tool for soil, dust and water profiling and drug investigations.
Over the next decade, the AFP will be looking to expand what MPS can do, such as to include traits like age, body mass index and height.
“We will also be seeking opportunities to provide fine detail predictions for facial metrics such as distance between the eyes, eye, nose and ear shape, lip fullness, and cheek structure,” AFP MPS lead scientist Dr Paul Roffey added.