Phoenix police using new technology to solve crimes, cold cases

Mar 6, 2020, 4:15 AM | Updated: Mar 9, 2020, 10:43 am

(Parabon Nanolabs Screenshot)...

(Parabon Nanolabs Screenshot)

(Parabon Nanolabs Screenshot)

PHOENIX — An advanced genetic analysis technology called SNP genotyping is helping the Phoenix Police Department solve crimes and cold cases.

“Instead of looking at just a handful of genetic markers like law enforcement traditionally has in their analysis, we’re looking at hundreds of thousands of genetic markers across the genome,” CeCe Moore, chief genetic genealogist with Parabon Nanolabs, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

This gives investigators much more power to predict distant relationships to a person they’re seeking to identify. In the traditional way of investigating, law enforcement looks for an exact match or a very close family member, like a parent or a child.

But that’s not the case with SNP genotyping.

“The analysis we use can predict second, third, fourth cousins and beyond,” Moore added. “We are using the family trees of the people who share significant amounts of DNA with the unknown person to reverse engineer their family tree.”

The process starts with investigators analyzing the DNA sample from the crime scene or the victim. From that, they uncover hundreds of thousands of genetic markers that make up the person’s DNA. They format a data file with all the information and upload it to an online data base called GEDmatch.

“GEDmatch has about one million users and about 200,000 of those have opted into law enforcement matching meaning they’ve allowed them to compare these crime scene DNA files or these unknown victim’s DNA against their’s in order to try and find people that are related to the,” Moore added.

Once a DNA file is uploaded to GEDmatch and compared, a list of people sharing significant amounts of DNA is created.

“For us, significant amounts of DNA could be less than 1%,” Moore added. “For instance if you share about 1% of your DNA, you could be third cousins and share great great grandparents.”

Parabon Nanolabs’ goal behind all of this is to find the common ancestor and essentially reverse the make up of a family tree to identify an unknown person.

Phoenix police used this technology at the end of 2019 to solve a cold case.

“Forensic Science is an ever-developing field and the advancements in Genetic Genealogy and DNA Phenotyping have provided law enforcement agencies across the nation opportunities that were not available in years past,” the department said in a statement. “Developments in the field have made providing physical appearance and ancestry predictions a possibility.

“While many aspects of investigative work don’t change, the Phoenix Police Department is always looking at current and new forensic science to assist in investigations.”

Parabon Nanolabs has helped different law enforcement agencies across the country solve crimes with their technology.

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Phoenix police using new technology to solve crimes, cold cases