Automation dna typing system for national forensic databank

1st April 2013

Tecan has signed an agreement with the South African Police Service to supply, install and provide customer support for its fully automated forensic DNA typing system.

Tecan's experience in automating genomics applications will play a central role in the operation of South Africa's national forensic DNA databank.

The E8.35 million contract was secured by Tecan's German subsidiary after an open invitation for international bids.

The project is financed by a European Union initiative to assist reconstruction and development in South Africa(1).

The South African national forensic databank contains DNA samples that may be analysed by electrophoresis to create DNA profiles.

Such methods have changed forensic science by enabling drastic improvements in the identification of individuals whose samples are included in suspect databanks.

The government of the United States alone plans annual investments of 60 million USD over the next five years to increase the capacity for DNA identification of state and local crime labs(2).

Tecan's solution, which is based on its large-scale TRAC 3 system, will permit fully automated DNA typing from blood and other body fluid or from tissue samples collected at the scene of a crime. In terms of size and throughput, the proposed installation for the South African Police Service is, says Tecan, probably unrivalled by any similar systems currently in operation.

DNA profiling is a powerful investigative tool because, with the exception of identical twins, no two people have the same DNA sequence.

Current DNA technologies such as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and fully automated laboratories allow forensic scientists to construct DNA databases of known individuals.

DNA profiles are stored in such databases and may be used for comparison with unidentified profiles generated from samples recovered from crime scenes.

Such information may be used to establish the innocence of a person, link a perpetrator to a specific case if his or her genetic profile is in the database of known individuals, or link a seemingly unrelated case to a criminal or criminals at large. If sufficient DNA is recovered, it is subjected to PCR.

One or more specific small regions of the DNA are copied using a DNA polymerase enzyme. This generates a sufficient amount of DNA for fragment analysis and allows scientists to obtain genetic information from small or degraded samples.

The amplified genetic material, which is labelled with fluorescent markers, is then subjected to electrophoretic forces to separate DNA fragments according to molecular size.

The visualised result is known as the genetic profile. This profile may be compared with the genetic profiles contained in the database of known individuals.

Martin von Lueder, President of Tecan Europe, said: "Tecan's extensive experience in automating a wide range of genomic applications, including those supporting the forensic sciences, was a key factor in our successful bid for this project.

"Our proven ability to develop and implement powerful customer solutions combined with our strengths in customer support and large-scale automation projects clearly differentiated our solution from the proposals of our competitors.“

He added: "The South African project is one of the first nationwide DNA forensic programs to be introduced in a non-academic setting.“

Christo Weitz, Senior Superintendent of the South African Police Service Forensic Science Laboratory commented: "We are extremely pleased to have the support of the European Union and Tecan in this far-reaching project to improve the level of service that our facility is able to offer the people of South Africa.

"Undertakings of this sort protect civil liberties and help to ensure the operation and further development of a judicious legal system.“

References: 1. European programme for reconstruction and development in the Republic of South Africa, Robotic automation of the crime index of the DNA criminal intelligence database, Financial agreement no. SA/99/73200/024.

2. Statement from US Attorney General John Ashcroft given to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, February 2004.

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