Lockheed Martin and ZyGEM, a forensics company,
unveiled a new rapid DNA testing technology that they say can help identify suspects, aid in disaster recovery efforts, and eventually reduce rape-kit backlogs. Kits will be distributed to agencies this summer, the companies announced at a recent Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Last July, an appeals court ruled that
police officers can collect DNA via cheek swab from suspects even if they haven’t been charged or convicted of a crime. But even though
DNA collection is allowed, ZyGEM CEO Paul Kinnon said, a lot of times agencies don’t have the technology to do it. This new technology would allow them to do it in-house, without having to ship DNA to a regional lab and wait for a response.
“With the successful development of our fully-integrated cartridge device, this platform now has the potential to transform today’s DNA identification process from one that takes a great deal of training, sophisticated equipment , and time into a far simpler, more affordable process that can be performed in the lab or field in under 90 minutes,” said Joan Bienvenue, Lockheed Martin program manager and chief scientist.
The prototype was announced in 2010. Two years later, the companies have plans to release the DNA identification solution this summer to “select customers” in homeland security, law enforcement, and research fields.
It starts with a cheek swab. A police officer can swab a suspect and deposit the sample into a cartridge that is inserted into a processor that can provide a DNA profile in about 90 minutes. That profile can be matched against existing profiles or stored in a database. The system is designed so that it doesn’t take any special training to use.
“So a professional forensic person can use it. A semi-trained lab tech could use it. Also a police officer and military person can use it,” Kinnon said by phone on Wednesday. “This is a decentralized solution to a centralized problem. Anyone can do this wherever they are and get it in real time rather than having to wait two or three days" - the time it would take for a sample to travel to a lab and return.
Kinnon says hardware for the solution would cost around the same as current technology, but agencies could save money because all testing could be done in-house and there would be no wait for results. The technology could also be used in establishing paternity or identifying remains in a disaster relief situation. The technology isn't currently optimized to process rape kits, but it's an application that is being explored for the future.
Judges in last year’s ruling said collecting DNA samples doesn’t violate constitutional protections and that DNA information was just a 21st century version of fingerprints. ZyGEM and Lockheed Martin just want to provide a faster way to run the “prints.”