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DNA boost To Madeleine Case

DNA technology breakthrough

Revolutionary DNA technology which could catch thousands more criminals every year is finally set to be cleared for use by police.

DNAboost - which allows scientists to unravel mixed and previously unusable genetic samples - was hailed for its crime-fighting potential by former Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2006.

Experts believe the powerful software will identify up to 6,000 extra suspects annually, and could also help in cases such as that of missing Madeleine McCann - where forensic evidence appears to have been difficult to analyse.

However, despite impressive results from pilot schemes in Yorkshire, Humberside and Northumbria, police have been banned from using the tool for more than 12 months.

The long delay led detectives and scientists to complain that the technology was falling victim to a "turf war" over the National DNA Database.

The Forensic Science Service (FSS) - which developed DNAboost - was stripped of control over the bank of 3.5 million samples in December 2005, when it was made an independent Government-backed company.

A Home Office strategy board including representatives from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and the Association of Police Authorities (Apa) now decides how the database can be used.

A spokeswoman for the department confirmed that the strategy board had delivered its recommendation, and the matter had been passed to the Attorney General for final sign-off.

A source close to the project said DNAboost was the "most validated DNA technology in history".

They said: "This is the biggest step forward in crime-fighting science for more than a decade, and it has taken far too long to get clearance. It looks like it's finally getting authorised, but we could have caught thousands of criminals while they have gone through these hoops."

DNAboost to cold cases

The Forensic Science Service (FSS) is piloting a DNA technique it says could lead to countless unsolved criminal investigations being reopened.

The technique has already been useful in current investigations numbering in double figures, The Register has learned.

DNAboost is a piece of software which it's hoped will help forensics interpret genetic sequences from mixed samples. Incidents where minimal cell fragments are collected or have been degraded present difficulties distinguishing between individuals.

The FSS says its tests on DNAboost have shown it could improve DNA profile yield by as much as 40 per cent, and detection rates by 15 per cent. The possibility is for thousands of "cold" cases being supplied with new leads, the FSS reckons. DNAboost-resolved samples could identify multiple users of a weapon in more cases, for example.

DNA manager Paul Hackett said: "We've been able to demonstrate an increased rate of interpretation even in those areas that have proved traditionally most difficult – fragments of cellular submissions."

The technology behind DNAboost is based on a simple idea. Rather than compare a mixed sample to every profile in a database, the DNAboost algorithm turns the problem on its head, turning it into a process of elimination. There are 20 data points in a DNA profile, for a sample from more than one individual trials showed the program would quickly return the right number of matching profiles.

FSS consultant forensic scientist Dr Tim Clayton, who works with DNAboost, described the lateral thinking at its foundation as "beautifully simple, like all the best ideas".

Despite this apparent simplicity, the FSS is claiming a world first on the application.

DNA boost is being trialled by the FSS for four police forces on their local DNA repositories: West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Northumbria and Humberside.

A government-owned limited company, the FSS hopes to roll out DNAboost to all of its police force customers. The service is in negotiations with the Home Office for access to the National DNA Database, the world's largest database of human DNA profiles.

The new technique does nothing to broaden the reach of the National DNA Database, which civil liberties groups criticise for retaining DNA from individuals who have never been charged or prosecuted. If anything it may help quieten calls within government and law enforcement for the database to be expanded, as current data should be better utilised

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