The way law enforcement, families, and communities approach cases of disappearance has changed as a result of the use of DNA testing in the search for missing persons. DNA, the individual’s distinctive genetic code, has emerged as a vital tool for investigating crimes that otherwise would have gone unsolved. This article examines the crucial role DNA testing plays in the hunt for missing people, emphasizing its implications, methods, and ethical issues that surround this potent technology.
The Strength of DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, is the abbreviation for the genetic material that gives each person their individuality. It is a lifelong trait that is inherited from one’s biological parents. Its persistence makes exact identification possible, making it an effective forensic science instrument. DNA testing can be used in cases of missing persons to:
Identity Verification: DNA testing can verify a person’s identity by comparing a person’s DNA profile to a reference sample provided by family members or previously gathered biological material.
Reunite Families: When children have been abducted, DNA testing can determine their biological relationship to their parents, even long heritage by Ancestry DNA Testing, allowing for reunification.
Close Cold Cases: DNA databases and cutting-edge forensic methods have helped close long-standing missing people cases by comparing unidentifiable remains.
Visual and other customary means of identification
This usually involves relatives or acquaintances of the missing person(s) viewing the remains. Presumptive identifications can also be made through associated personal documents or identification discs and event documentation, such as eyewitness reports. There are a number of important points relating to visual and customary identification:
- It may be the only pragmatic option.
- It carries a significant risk of misidentification.
- The risk of misidentification is substantially greater as the number of deceased grows.
- The risk of misidentification is substantially greater as increasing numbers of bodies are collected in one place and exposed to relatives, who will inevitably be in various shock states.
- Visual/customary methods should be used as the sole means of identification only when the bodies are not decomposed or mutilated, and there is a well-founded idea of the victim’s identity, such as when the killing and burial of an individual has been witnessed.
- Before using visual identification, consideration should be given to the traumatic effects it can have on the families, how the impact of a viewing can adversely affect a relative’s judgment when trying to make an identification, and
- Collecting biological samples from relatives and the body may be possible for subsequent DNA analysis. These can be used to confirm or refute an identification later if DNA analysis becomes available. While desirable, this may not be easy to implement in the field.
Things to do when a person goes missing.
Report your loved one as missing.
File a Missing Person Report with the local law enforcement agency in the area where your loved one last resided. If you aren’t sure where they were living, file it with your local police or sheriff.
Provide a DNA sample from the Missing Person or an immediate family member. If possible, a DNA sample from the Missing Person is preferred. This could be a hairbrush, toothbrush, or biological sample by Home DNA Kit. A DNA sample from an immediate family member is also known as a Family Reference Sample (FRS). If a Family Reference Sample is taken, it will usually be done when the report is made or shortly after. If you are not invited to give a Family Reference Sample, inquire with the agency. Family members who provide a Family Reference Sample or DNA sample must complete the paperwork. Filing a Missing Person Report and providing a DNA sample may be daunting initially, but it is persistent!
Provide dental records.
Dental records can be instrumental in comparing unidentified remains, and this type of comparison is cheaper and faster than using DNA. If you don’t have access to your loved one’s dental records, you may need to work with the courts to obtain them.
Submission to NamUS
Make sure there is an active record for your missing person at https://www.namus.gov/. The family can coordinate with a NamUs regional program director who can assist them. Registering as a public user on the site will also see the comparisons officials have made to the MP record. Check the NamUs record periodically because records get purged, and new comparisons can be added.
Provide more DNA
Anyone related can help by taking a direct-to-consumer DNA test like Face DNA Test and then uploading their results to the open-matching databases on their website.
Uploading your results to Face DNA is the only way the DNA Doe Project and other investigative genetic genealogists can match your DNA profile to unidentified remains.
Leave breadcrumbs for researchers.
Researchers use public data, including social media, websites, and family research sites.
Build a free online family tree with as much information as possible at Choice DNA, which is preferable.
Choice DNA won’t display information about living people, so mark your missing relative “deceased” and add “Missing” in the Death date field.
If you are comfortable doing so, post the story and pictures of your missing loved one to your social media and make sure they are shared publicly, or create a page dedicated to your missing person.
When publishing family obituaries, include your missing family member’s name, ideally with the addition of (missing) to the text. Investigative genetic genealogists often work with distant genetic matches to build family trees, so they’re more likely to come across records for grandparents or great-grandparents whose obituary records provide important clues.
Standard forensic DNA analysis
The human genome, which contains 3.2 billion base pairs, is physically arranged on 23 chromosomes (22 pairs of autosomal chromosomes and a pair of X/Y sex chromosomes). These chromosomes are located within the cell’s nucleus, hence nuclear DNA. Two copies of each chromosome can be found in each person’s cells except the sperm and ova, which contain only one copy. Red blood cells, which are an exception, contain no nuclear DNA. Using DNA analysis to identify human remains is a five-step process that involves:
- Retrieval (collection, storage and extraction) of DNA from the human remains;
- Retrieval of DNA, for comparison, from either the relatives of the missing person or from sources such as hair, saliva stains or other biological material known to be from the missing person and predating their disappearance;
- Generating a DNA profile from both the human remains and reference samples(s);
- comparing the DNA profiles
- Deciding on the degree of matching compatible with the claimed relationship between the deceased and the family member (or other reference material), given other evidence.