State will use Battelle DNA technology at crime lab

LONDON, Ohio — The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation soon will boost its DNA testing abilities, thanks to new technology from Battelle.

Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Thursday that the bureau is working with Battelle, the Columbus nonprofit research giant, to validate new DNA-sequencing — called Next Generation Sequencing — technology.

Traditional DNA testing uses capillary electrophoresis, a process of “stretching” the DNA to examine it and identify it by size. Next Generation Sequencing, however, looks at the nucleotides — the building blocks of nucleic acid —that make up sequences in DNA, said Richard Guerrieri, Battelle’s director of forensic and biometric initiatives. Nucleotides determine the characteristics of an individual, providing a more accurate DNA identification, Guerrieri said.

DeWine said the new technology has the ability, for example, to help identify human remains that are especially decomposed.

“Some of the human remains discovered are so degraded, so damaged, that current testing does not produce a DNA profile,” DeWine said. “When we move to (Next Generation) testing, we expect that we’l l get a profile or an identity on even those types of samples.”

DeWine said that down the road, Next Generation Sequencing also could be used in sexual-assault and murder cases.

Though the technology already shows promise, it must by approved by the FBI and the National Institute of Justice, said Michael Dickens, Battelle’s vice president. Ohio’s crime lab is among several state and federal labs currently doing that two-year validation, which has about six months left.

Battelle spent $1.2 million on technology that will go to BCI and plans to invest another $800,000, Katy Delaney, a Battelle spokeswoman, said. Overall, Battelle spent $5 million of internal money on the project and received $15 million in funding from federal entities.

Next Generation sequencing will be quicker because it will be done in-house. Now, BCI has to send some DNA samples to out-of-state labs, Battelle President Jeffrey Wadsworth said.

Though that doesn’t cost BCI anything — the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, tests for free because of a federal grant, Attorney General’s office spokeswoman Jill Delgreco said — it can take about six months to get results.

Wadsworth said Next Generation Sequencing should reduce that wait time to about a week because it will be done at BCI’s London lab.

Though Next Generation Sequencing is limited to identifying DNA samples right now, it might be used to identify features of suspects in the future.

“Being able to identify new information with DNA through NGS technology means someday we will be able to detect someone’s ancestry, their hair color, their eye color, their nose size, their jawline details and even things like freckles,” DeWine said.

From there, investigators could make a sketch of what a perpetrator might look like, he said.

“This technology doesn’t replace the old-fashioned police work that must be done in a criminal investigation, but if we can obtain ancestry and facial characteristics in the DNA through this new science, it will help investigators narrow their wide search.”

ebohatch@dispatch.com

@emilybohatch

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