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Prototype "Rapid DNA" technology exhibited; could bolster forensic investigations

DoD, FBI, DHS all very interested in rapid DNA systems

By , Network World
September 29, 2011 01:04 PM ET

Network World - TAMPA --  Using a portable kit to be able to quickly analyze human DNA collected in the field for investigative and forensics purposes has been a long-time dream for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), law enforcement and the Department of Defense (DoD).

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This week at the Biometric Consortium Conference, companies unveiled prototype DNA analysis kits they claim can automatically carry out what's being called "Rapid DNA" analysis in a few hours or less with the accuracy now only achieved in lab environments with many hours of expert work from trained technicians often facing huge backlogs of requests.

"We'll have pre-production units out by the end of year," said Dr. Stevan Jovanovich, president and CEO of Pleasanton, Calif.-based IntegenX, about the company's RapidHIT kit for DNA analysis on the go. All that's needed is to insert the type of swab now widely used to collect DNA often from inside a cheek into the DNA-analysis kit and within 90 minutes, out pops the answer to what an individual's DNA is (not a full genetic analysis but what suffices for identification and perhaps confirming family relationships such as parent-child or sister-brother).

The goal is to get RapidHIT, a portable box-like device with integrated bio-science reagents, chipset, software and applications down to an hour. Jovanovich said there's been field testing with the Palm Bay, Fla., police department. Even the Department of Defense has taken the RapidHIT device to test it with Army volunteers in a Norfolk field exercise in May, he added, noting that one Army officer brought a swab from his son to see what the DNA-linked paternity outcome to him would be (he wasn't disappointed).

"We now have a contract with Homeland Security to develop kinship analysis on this platform," said Jovanovich, and added he expects to soon be able to announce with Northrop Grumman a DoD contract for a few systems.

At the conference, the University of Arizona's Dr. Frederic Zenhausern, professor at the university's Center for Applied Nanobioscience and Medicine in the College of Medicine, spoke on the topic of the Rapid DNA analysis kit developed under the university's Microfluidic DNA Analysis System Project.

"It's completely self-diagnostic," he said, showing off a few photos of the box-like device being lugged around. "Everything is built in." The prototype includes a bar-coding system and touch screen, but exactly what the device security would be is not yet determined.

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Waltham, Mass.,-based Network Biosystems also has a prototype called Rapid DNA Analysis kit, said to be able to spit out a DNA answer based on a swab insert in an hour or so.

"No manual processing, no reagent loading," said Dr. Richard Seldon, executive chairman of Network Biosystems about the 50 kilogram-heavy, 6 cubic-foot container that in its present form has WiFi and RFID reader capabilities and log-in screen. 

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