National DNA Program partners with Othram to use forensic genetic genealogy for unsolved Australian cases

26 October 2022

The AFP will have access to specialised forensic DNA testing, not currently available in Australia, to identify human remains and develop new leads for unsolved crimes, by partnering with a world-leading forensic genomics laboratory.

Under the agreement, the AFP’s National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons will provide forensic evidence from some of Australia’s most challenging unidentified and missing persons cases to the United States-based forensic genomics laboratory Othram to be examined using advanced forensic DNA tools, including Forensic Genetic Genealogy (FGG).

Othram is the world’s first purpose-built FGG laboratory for human identification applications. Over the last three years, Othram’s technology has helped law enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada solve many decades-old cases.

FGG combines cutting-edge DNA testing methods, public DNA databases and traditional genealogy research to provide investigative leads that can help identify unknown individuals. The process leverages DNA comparisons with distant genetic relatives to reconstruct family trees and narrow down the search to a region, a family or an individual.

FGG testing is now underway at Othram for several Program cases not solvable using standard forensic techniques and searches of national law enforcement databases. The longer-term benefits of this partnership will include technology and knowledge transfer, joint research projects and establishment of best practices for using FGG for human remains identification.

The National DNA Program, which commenced in July 2020 and is funded until December 2023, is dedicated to identifying human remains found across Australia and resolving missing persons investigations. The Program is funded from the Commonwealth’s Confiscated Assets Account, which enables the Commonwealth to redirect criminal assets back into the community.

National DNA Program Lead, Associate Professor Jodie Ward, said the new partnership demonstrated the ongoing commitment of the AFP to apply the latest forensic technologies to identify deceased individuals, locate missing persons and provide families with the answers they deserve.

“For many of these cases, FGG technology will be our last resort to reunite the remains of unknown Australians with the families missing them”, Associate Professor Ward said.

The Australian public can assist the Program’s goal to identify up to 750 unidentified human remains by voluntarily submitting their DNA profile to genealogy databases that law enforcement can search. The Program can then compare DNA profiles recovered from the remains against DNA profiles from the public, in the hope of matching them to genetic relatives.

Associate Professor Ward said, “The Program’s success using FGG will grow as more Australians choose to get involved and join these database expansion efforts, especially for our long-term missing persons cases where there are no close relatives available to provide a familial DNA sample”.

The National DNA Program and law enforcement agencies worldwide can currently search three genealogy databases for defined investigative purposes – they are Othram’s private database ‘DNASolves’, and two public databases ‘FamilyTreeDNA’ and ‘GEDmatch’.

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