FORT WORTH, Texas—The DNA Identity Laboratory at the UNT Health Science Center takes on an expanded role this fall with the establishment of a statewide missing persons DNA database.
The health science center will work with Texas law enforcement officials to establish a database of DNA samples based on unidentified human remains or a high-risk missing person. The program is funded by the Crime Victims Compensation Fund of the state’s Office of the Attorney General.
Officials from around the state will collect DNA samples from unidentified human remains and submit those samples to the UNT Health Science Center for forensic DNA analysis and inclusion of the results in the DNA database.
Comparative data will be collected from family members of a missing person. After a missing persons report is filed, local law enforcement officials will inform the family about the Missing Persons DNA database. The family can then provide a sample of DNA for forensic analysis or a personal article belonging to the high-risk missing person for purposes of DNA sampling. These samples will be included in the database for comparison purposes.
DNA samples from unidentified human remains will be compared with DNA samples from personal articles belonging to high-risk missing persons or from parents of high-risk missing persons or other appropriate persons.
The results of the forensic analysis will be compatible with the DNA database established by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Texas results will be included in that database.
“Once we have a direct link with the FBI, law enforcement agencies from around the country will have access to our records here,” said John Planz, Ph.D., associate director of the DNA Identity Lab. “Without this database, a body may never be identified simply because they weren’t found near their hometown. We hope that our efforts will allow unsolved cases from Texas and the rest of the country to eventually be closed.”
This fall, the UNT Health Science Center began to develop the DNA database and center infrastructure, establish center protocols and employ center personnel. Next year, the center will begin analyzing cases, focusing first on cases that involve children.
Among the initial steps will be developing a model kit to be used by a law enforcement agency to take DNA samples from parents or other appropriate persons. The center will also create an advisory committee, consisting of medical examiners, law enforcement officials, and other interested persons as determined appropriate by the center, to establish priorities regarding the identification of the backlog of high-risk missing person cases and unidentified human remains.
The DNA database is another part to the lab’s ongoing relationship with the state of Texas. The DNA Identity Laboratory has provided scientific and technical support for Texas law enforcement agencies and crime labs for more than 10 years. It provides paternity testing, forensic genetic screening and DNA testing for the state of Texas. The lab is the only public agency in Texas that performs mitochondrial forensic DNA testing.
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