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No DNA Testing Delays

No DNA Testing Delays

July 7 2004

ESR is continuing to invest heavily in the infrastructure of its DNA forensic work and as a consequence there are no testing delays in this area and the organisation is handling normal volumes of work, says General Manager Forensic, Wayne Chisnall.

The organisation currently process about 40,000 DNA samples a year. These include a mix of individual DNA profiles (approx 10,000), crimes scene samples (approx 4500), samples from serious cases (approx 7000) and quality control & caliration samples . The DNA Databank currently has 43,000 individual profiles and 9,000 crime scene profiles loaded onto it. Comparisons or “matches” are made between the two databases enabling historic cases such as the Cormack and McKinnel homicides to be solved.

37 forensic biologists undertake work in ESR’s DNA forensic biology area. The work includes extracting profiles from individual and crime scene samples for loading and matching onto the DNA Databank. The forensic biology team and the Databank are located in a world class, purpose-built DNA facility in Auckland.

These are separate laboratories to the methamphetamine “P” clandestine laboratory testing area where there have been acknowledged recent delays in testing.

Clandestine laboratory investigating chemists do completely different work and undertake different, mainly chemical, testing and analysis in dedicated chemistry laboratories. There is no relationship between the two areas either in staff, equipment, laboratories or regimes. Delays have been experienced in the “P lab” testing area due to the explosion in the manufacture in “P” in New Zealand together with a worldwide shortage of specialist investigative chemists. However the backlog in this area is steadily reducing and ESR expects it to be cleared by mid to late next year. Cases are now being managed to court dates and this has resolved many of the issues.

The New Zealand DNA Databank was the second in the world to be set up after the UK in 1996. Higher than expected demand for services resulted in a backlog of DNA samples to be processed by 2000. However these were rapidly cleared and technological advancements means there have been no issues in testing in this area recently.

In the forensic DNA area ESR has begun investment in automation to support its DNA work. Automation allows high volumes of samples to be rapidly processed. The level of automation that is appropriate depends on the volume of samples.

“Automation is becoming increasingly common in this area of forensic biology around the world. The UK Forensic Science Service has automated much of its DNA process in recent times.” Mr Chisnall said. UK legislation has recently changed to allow DNA sampling from anyone on arrest.

“If there were to be any further changes to New Zealand legislation to widen DNA testing there would be an increase in a requirement for testing and it is likely we would increase our investment in automation. However there would be ample lead-time to manage the extra services required by the police if this occurred,” he said.


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