The science of DNA analysis to identity individuals has led to a revolution in law enforcement, and the FBI, as well as the U.S. military, would like to see the development of portable "Rapid DNA" kits that authorized personnel could take into the field or use at booking stations to immediately have human DNA-based samples, such as blood, analyzed to determine identity.
Today DNA profiling is an extensive lab procedure and portable Rapid DNA kits don't exist -- but they may be getting closer. An effort led by Lockheed Martin in partnership with ZyGEM's MicroLab Diagnostics laboratories in Charlottesville, Va., may yield one of the first "Rapid DNA"-styled kits for government review by next year. Dubbed RapI.D., this portable kit would have to undergo strenuous testing by federal authorities, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology, plus the FBI itself would have to be sure a clear legal procedures would be in place to use it.
The world of Rapid DNA (or R-DNA as it's often called) is probably still years off, but at this week's Biometric Consortium Conference, where the topic of R-DNA was discussed, the prospect of real-world portable DNA test kits that can spit out a DNA profile in less than an hour was gathering attention.
The RapI.D. portable kit detailed by John Mears, director of biometric solutions at Lockheed Martin, during his presentation at the Biometric Consortium Conference this week, is capable of analyzing human DNA in the way needed for investigative purposes in about an hour. In the near future, it's expected RapI.D. will be doing analysis in about 45 minutes, he said.
The ruggedized toolkit, which fits in a case, needs a human blood sample inserted to perform micro-analysis through a combination of a specialized chipset working with controllers, a laser, an optical detector, cartridge interface and pump, to spit out the kind of DNA analysis that law enforcement depends on in investigations.
"You can actually do sample in and out in one device," said Dr. James Landers, chief scientific officer at MicroLab Diagnostics, who is also professor at the University of Virginia in the fields of chemistry, mechanical engineering and pathology, of chemistry.
In his presentation at the conference, Dr. Landers said he sees clear advancement in the technology he is working on with Lockheed Martin, and said there will probably be other contenders for what's called R-DNA in the future, too. "The idea of 60 minutes turnaround time is feasible," he noted.
But even after prototype toolkits such as RapI.D. are complete enough to be handed over to federal authorities for review, there are many challenges in preparing the way for them, said Dr. Thomas Callaghan, senior biometric scientist at the FBI Laboratory.
During his presentation, Callaghan said there will need to be appropriate policies and procedures developed for the R-DNA kits and their use, especially as the kits will be viewed as non-lab DNA analysis. The certified DNA labs that exist today have stringent certification controls, and the challenge will be setting appropriate controls over the R-DNA toolkits, which must receive official testing approvals.
"We don't know how this will play out," he acknowledged, saying establishing a method for R-DNA toolkit quality control is still under consideration.
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