New System to Speed Up DNA Analysis

DNA is considered the gold standard for identifying people, according to the National Academy of Sciences. It’s used to determine a suspect’s association with a crime, exonerate the wrongly accused, identify deceased victims of disasters, and establish ancestry and familial relationships, to name just a few applications.

But DNA analysis performed in traditional forensic labs is expensive and slow. That’s because each analysis requires skilled workers in a certified forensic laboratory using special equipment in a controlled environment. It can take anywhere from 12 to 20 hours to generate results—that is, if the lab has no backlog. And the backlog can be huge. Reports say that hundreds of samples are waiting to be processed in crime labs across the United States; it could take months or even years to clear the logjam. The processing of DNA samples could soon be speeded up, however. A new, rapid DNA analysis system developed by NetBio, a small company in Waltham, Mass., can generate high-quality DNA profiles in less than 90 minutes. And this can be done by nontechnical personnel outside a laboratory setting.