Written by Kristi Mayo
CRIME LABS, LAW ENFORCEMENT, and first responders who
want to learn more about Rapid DNA technology now have a resource in Largo,
Florida. In November, the Rapid DNA Center of Excellence held a ribbon cutting
at its facility, recently established at the National
Forensic Science Technology Center at Florida International University.
The Rapid DNA Center of Excellence is a collaboration
between NFSTC@FIU—an organization that provides forensic training, assessment,
research, and technology assistance—and Thermo
Fisher Scientific, a manufacturer of Rapid DNA technology. The center will
combine DNA analysis technology with hands-on DNA training.
Rapid DNA experts with the NFSTC@FIU and Thermo Fisher said
the goals of the center are threefold:
The development of the center comes at a time when Rapid DNA
technology is gaining traction in a number of applications, including booking
stations and mass fatality incidents. In one example, the Bensalem
(Pennsylvania) Police Department—which has experimented with Rapid DNA since
pilot project in 2013—became the first police department to install a Rapid
DNA unit in their booking station. Since launching that booking-station project
in 2017, the department has seen a 40% reduction in property crimes.
The technology has also found a niche in mass
fatality incidents, such as California wildfires and hurricanes in the Gulf
of Mexico. “Because Rapid DNA can provide quick identification of remains,
families can get closure,” said Ariana Wheaton, senior market development
manager with Thermo Fisher Scientific. “Instruments have been field-deployed to
the sites of disasters, most notably the Camp Fire last year in California as
part of the disaster-victim identification response.”
Rapid DNA “became the first resort” for providing
identification for victims when comparing dental records or fingerprints wasn’t
possible, according to the Department
of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, which partially
funded the Rapid DNA effort in Paradise, California. There, the Butte County
Sheriff’s Office invited representatives from Rapid DNA company ANDE Corporation to assist at the disaster
site with technology capable of analyzing DNA samples in less than two hours.
The United States border offers another venue for
application of the technology. “Rapid DNA is being used at the border to
validate or disprove family relationships of immigrant families, thereby aiding
in identifying potential child traffickers,” said Wheaton. The DHS began
utilizing Rapid DNA units at the border in May 2019.
All of these uses, said Robert O’Brien, Forensic Biology
section lead at NFSTC@FIU, play to the proven strengths of Rapid DNA.
“Currently, the best applications are any application where a single-source
sample needs testing, and especially where speed is of the essence,” he
Where the technology currently falls short, however, is
where samples might be degraded, mixed, or otherwise compromised—in other
words, crime scene samples. Today’s Rapid DNA technology cannot “duplicate the
results achieved from conventional DNA methods” on difficult samples, said
“Crime scene samples, by their nature, are unique and can
contain a wide variety of variables, including DNA mixtures,” said Kevin
Lothridge, executive director at NFSTC@FIU. “With this technology at such an
early stage of implementation, there needs to be more study of instrument
performance on these types of samples to ensure best practices and processes
This kind of study is exactly what the Rapid DNA Center of Excellence aims to
perform. According to Lothridge, as the center works to develop training,
research, and validation guidelines, the group hopes to also collaborate with
all stakeholders, including crime labs, law enforcement agencies, and Rapid DNA
instrumentation vendors adhering to FBI and SWGDAM guidance.
As Rapid DNA technology continues to develop and deploy to a
growing number of agencies and applications, the experts at the Rapid DNA
Center of Excellence plan to be on the forefront of training, testing,
research, and new product evaluation. And the technology is expected to grow.
“As with many new technologies, when costs come down, the
applications can be applied more broadly. For example, Rapid DNA can be used as
a triage tool,” said O’Brien. “We also expect Rapid DNA technology to improve
in terms of speed, sensitivity, and data quality.”
Kristi Mayo is the editor/publisher of Evidence