Scientists Call For Creation Of DNA Identification Organization

Forensic scientists are calling for the creation of a DNA identification organization — one that functions much in the same way the International Atomic Energy Agency does, which sends inspectors to nuclear facilities.

NPR – “Human DNA is the ultimate fingerprint. A single hair can contain enough information to determine someone’s identity — a feature that’s been invaluable for identifying the unnamed casualties of natural disasters and war. But forensic scientists who use DNA say the technology isn’t always available where it’s most needed, like in poor countries, or in war zones like Syria.

The technology is often too expensive or too complicated, and where there are large numbers of unknown dead, you need far more than just DNA profiling equipment. You also need sophisticated computer programs to organize and match DNA samples from numerous family members, as well as experts to read the samples properly.

Alex John London, a medical ethicist at Carnegie Mellon University, says that while there are numerous groups that do DNA identification worldwide, and the process is often ad hoc and erratic.

It was largely the Indian Ocean tsunami that got forensic experts thinking. There were tens of thousands of unidentified bodies, and DNA experts flocked to Thailand to set up labs. Tom Parsons, a DNA expert with the International Commission on Missing Persons, says Thailand got the attention because western tourists died there. Their governments sent teams to find their bodies, but it didn’t go well.

“All of the world’s first-rate forensic teams took off to Thailand, where white people were killed,” Parsons says, “with no centralized plan, pushing and pulling.” Governments funded the effort because they wanted their citizens’ remains back. But it was “really a mess,” says Parsons. Different groups wouldn’t share their technology, and even disagreed on how to do the DNA analysis. There was little coordination.

Eventually Interpol, the international police organization, intervened. The commission ended up identifying some 900 people, mostly Thais who might not have been identified otherwise.

Parsons says in the end the DNA work in Thailand was a success, but it revealed to forensic experts that there might be a better way to do this — that in fact a permanent organization with DNA “chops,” money and an international mandate to respond to disasters might work better.

“Our concern was that there should be a mechanism in place that would allow access to DNA identification beyond just ability to pay,” London says. “Too often if there isn’t a funder out there, then people who are missing relatives won’t get access to the technology.”

So forensic scientists are calling for the creation of a DNA identification organization — one that functions much in the same way the International Atomic Energy Agency does, which sends inspectors to nuclear facilities.

But London acknowledges in an article in the journal Science that a global DNA identification organization would face political obstacles, especially from governments at war with their own citizens.” Listen to All Things Considered on NPR

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11 comments on “Scientists Call For Creation Of DNA Identification Organization

  1. And I wonder how big bro would use this for not so nice purposes. Hmm. I’m on the dark side of humanity today.

    But, also very interesting is the LACK of cooperation among all these educated and well trained people. Ironic.

    Have you seen the film The Impossible? If it didn’t feature ‘whites’ at the story core I rather doubt it would have been seen in the USA. Still, it does provide a number of perspectives on the power of Mother Nature and the range of Human Nature. Who will lend you their cell phone and who will not. Who will carry an unknown injured woman to a hospital and who would not. And all the LOST children never found. There’s the main story and then there’s the story at large in the background.


    • I wondered the exact same thing. Like all new technology, this is going to be one vicious double-edged sword. So much potential for good…such high odds it will be used for…evil?

      No, I have not seen the film but will look around and see if I can dig it up on Netflix or online somewhere. There was a documentary after Katrina that raised some of the same questions but damned if I can remember the name right now. It was scary/interesting to see how people reacted and interacted with one another immediately after the flood. I think an urban setting would be the scariest place to find out just how friendly your neighbors are.

      And I didn’t mean to add to a dark mood on humanity. I started off the morning posting a happyish little ditty my daughter lead me to over the weekend. Not sure how I got from there to here??? Monday…


  2. Henry Jekyll says:

    As long as there is an option to opt out of this, I think it has its merits. However, I think any mandated mass DNA collection database serves as evidence of more sinister objectives and would recommend keeping your guard up. The British didn’t seem overly concerned about the dignity of unidentified bodies in Baghdad.


  3. Trailer for The Impossible. It might even be online in full.


    • I found the full version on YT so I’ll pull up a softer chair and watch it here on the PC. Just from watching the trailer I can tell that the way the story is presented, it’ll be a great piece of promo for a DNA database. Not saying it doesn’t look like a powerful film, just seeing how the human-emotion factor of it could be used as a “see, we need this” argument from our leaders.

      And I’m also left wondering…in an event like this…where nearly everything modern gets taken out…will a DNA database actually even make a difference? If power/technology fails, little paper strips of code aren’t likely to be very helpful, will they? I dunno, it’s early, I need some more coffee and a few more verses of G-Groove to shake the cobwebs and think more clearly…


  4. Regarding Katrina documentary yes, I’ve heard of that film too.
    I’m not sure urban or rural would be any safer depending on the nature of the specific humans you would have to contend with.

    oooo cheerios!


    • Since I’ve always lived more towards rural than urban, a rural catastrophe seems a less scary setting for my head to grasp. Fewer people around could mean less danger but the flip side would be having fewer people to band together and help one another. I just want to go ahead and move to a nice snug cave somewhere….screw all of this planning for everything! :-D


  5. At the risk of being a pest,… I found this and it’s a good interview that I can’t resist sharing it. It’s the woman who N. Watts plays in The Impossible.


  6. A snug cave sounds good to me too.

    Please do share your thoughts about the film. In many ways it is quite extraordinary.
    As far as the DNA project goes–well, in the aftermath once help moves in then it could be useful for dealting. Or not.


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