DNA Chips at Crime Scenes

Wed, 5 May 1999 08:25:01 EDT

http://www.courierpress.com/cgi/view.cgi?/199905/04/+crimelab_news.html+199905 04+news
Crime lab on credit card unveiled

Scripps Howard News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Department of Justice announced in Albuquerque Monday a five-year, $25 million research program to bring genetic testing directly to the crime scene on a credit card-sized “lab on a computer chip.”

Announcing the program on behalf of Attorney General Janet Reno, Jeremy Travis said the project aims to have a “forensic DNA chip in police forensic crime units within two years.”

However, experts with Nanogen, a San Diego genetic-testing company that is working with the Justice Department, said perfecting the technology may take several more years.

Travis said the technology isn’t just a question of making law enforcement easier and more effective, but a question of “real justice.” He said some 28 convicted individuals have been released in recent years based on new DNA evidence that showed they did not commit the crime of which they were convicted.

“This chip can be a powerful crime-fighting tool because of its speed of analysis and the vast amount of important DNA evidence it can contain and its economy,” Travis said, noting that the chips should cost $10 to $25 each.

They would be used to assess the DNA in blood, hair or semen samples collected directly at a crime scene and then identify potential suspects contained in the FBI’s national genetic database.

The database is a growing collection of individual DNA “fingerprints” — sequences of DNA collected from criminals that uniquely identifies them, just as their fingerprints would.

DNA is the biochemical code of life that comprises the genes in human cells. It confers inherited characteristics to future generations and it is also what makes individuals unique.

Lisa Forman, a scientist in the Justice Department’s Office of Science and Technology, acknowledged the project could face objections from civil libertarians concerned with the potential for abuse.

Among these might be the development of a national database including all citizens, or the use of medical genetic data obtained from health centers or hospitals.