What is the DNA Doe Project?
Bringing Contemporary Science to Old Cases.
While most people who die are identified by their relatives or friends, there are many people who go missing, and there is no information about them initially. Their bodies are often found days, weeks, months or years later, and it is difficult to identify the person, find out his or her name, legal heirs. Now law enforcement agencies are using a project called DNA Doe, to help trace the unidentified bodies which are found using DNA sequencing. So many people would like to find out, What is the DNA Doe Project? and how it helps identify unidentified bodies.
Providing Answers to a Wide Range of Past Mysteries:
Often those who commit suicide, use a false identity when they book a hotel room. Similarly to avoid being caught, murderers will remove all traces of identity from their victim, so that it is difficult for the law enforcement agencies to identify the murder victim or find a motive for the murder. There are other cases, when victims of accidents like car accidents cannot be identified due to lack of documents. Many of these dead individuals have a family member who is waiting for them. Hence, to help trace the bodies of unidentified persons, a project called DNA Doe was founded by Colleen Fitzpatrick and Margaret Press in the year 2017.
How It Works:
The project has been successful in identifying a large number of missing bodies and has a number of volunteers. Typically the project will first get the case from the law enforcement agencies who are unable to trace the person using other conventional means like identity proof. They will then try to extract a DNA sample from the body. Multiple DNA samples may be required, if the first sample is degraded. The sample is then subjected to DNA sequencing to get DNA information. Bioinformatics is then used to convert the DNA sequencing into a digital file, which can be used to trade the person.
The digitized DNA sequencing data is then uploaded to the GEDmatch database. GEDmatch is a database containing DNA details of a large number of people, who have undergone DNA testing and are willing to share their information with others. Using the tools available in GEDmatch, the volunteers then try to find a match for the DNA of the unidentified person. If there is any kind of match, the law enforcement agencies will ask the relative of the person to provide fingerprint, other information, and a DNA sample, which will be matched again to identify the person.
The GEDmatch database is increasing in size, since more people are undergoing DNA testing, so it may be easier to get a match. However, there are still some difficulties in using the DNA matching. One of the major problems is that some people are adopted, so that DNA is different. In other cases, immigrants who have recently migrated to the United States do not have relatives in the country. Since DNA testing is expensive, there are fewer samples available for some ethnic groups like African American, native American, so identifying victims of this group may be more difficult.
In some families, distant relatives are married to each other, making it more difficult to use DNA for tracing the relationship. In case the body is found many weeks or months after the death, it difficult to get adequate DNA samples, and multiple DNA samples may be required. In other cases, the DNA samples may be degraded or contaminated with bacteria, adversely affecting the accuracy of the testing. The volunteers then use the matches available in the GEDmatch database to build a family tree and try to ascertain the identity of the body. It is possible that due to contaminated sample, the matches may not be accurate.
Often many of those who have uploaded their DNA test results on the GEDmatch database have not provided more information like the family tree. So the volunteers use a number of other sources like Facebook, search engines like Google, Bing, obituaries and newspaper articles trying to build a family tree. If DNA match is found who is a second cousin or more closely related, the dead person and the match usually share a great-grandparent. Hence it is usually worthwhile to build a family tree in these cases, since it is easier to trace the members of the family. Hence, the project, DNA Doe can help in finding the family of unidentified dead persons and also help them get justice.