By Kevin Davies
Dec 2005 / Jan 2006 | A panel set up to advise on DNA identification following the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, has issued a report on its findings. The two-dozen authors are members of KADAP, the Kinship and Data Analysis Panel, drawn from the National Institute of Justice, FBI, New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), and the NIH.
As the extraordinary effort of matching thousands of recovered DNA samples with reference samples began, it soon became clear that new software tools were needed. “Data format incompatibilities and difficulties interconnecting the dataset were major technical challenges,” the report published in Science states.
Curiously, none of the software or biotech companies involved is mentioned by name (see “Soul Searching,” Sept. 2003 Bio•IT World), primarily because the effort was funded by the National Institute of Justice. “We all felt it was most proper that it not appear that this panel was reviewing or endorsing any commercial product,” explains lead author Leslie Biesecker of the NIH. “A number of commercial entities contributed to this effort, some by contract, some by selling a product, and we desperately wanted to avoid a situation where we were putting up one against the other.”
Another factor was concern among panel members regarding the propriety of private companies holding important resources required in the response to national disasters.
As of September 11, 2005, 850 identifications of the 1,594 victims positively identified had resulted solely on the basis of DNA results. Sadly, “the rate of new identifications has become negligible. The OCME and KADAP believe that additional large-scale efforts are scientifically unwarranted at this time.”
The major lesson of the Science report, Biesecker says, is “Be prepared... Everyone on the committee doubts that this is the last time it’ll have to be done. There’s also no doubt that if the resources and infrastructure are in place, one can respond much quicker.”
The National Institute of Justice will release a complete “Lessons Learned” document. Aside from greater detail, “they can say what the government policy should be — we can’t do that,” says Biesecker.
Featured Report: Biesecker, L.G. et al. “DNA identifications after the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.” Science 310, 1122-3; 2005