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DNA Tool Brings Life To The Long Dead

posted 9 May 2013, 03:33 by Mpelembe   [ updated 9 May 2013, 03:33 ]

A new DNA-based research tool developed in Poland, could help forensic specialists identify dead bodies which have either decomposed or been mutilated beyond recognition. The HIrisPlex (pron: Hirisplex) system has already been used to reveal the hair and eye colour from ancient human remains, but could be just as useful in modern criminal investigations as well. Jim Drury reports.

KRAKOW, POLAND, REUTERS / INSTITUTE OF FORENSIC RESEARCH - The HirisPlex system has been developed to establish the eye and hair colour of the dead, in cases where the body is too badly decomposed or mutilated to be identified by conventional means.

Using HirisPlex, investigators can analyse 24 naturally occurring DNA variations - or polymorphisms. It can determine colouring, and establish with up to ninety percent accuracy, if a deceased person had blue eyes or brown, or if their hair was blonde or brunette, or a shade in between.

Doctor Wojciech Branicki, from the Krakow Institute of Forensic Research, helped devise the system. He says it can be applied to both victims of crime, and criminal suspects who leave DNA samples at the scene.


"Our method is unique as it allows for the analysis of 24 chosen sequences of DNA using our special mathematical model, with which we are able to conduct a probability analysis. Thanks to this we can determine the eye and hair colour with great accuracy."

Police often use graphical representations of an eyewitness's memory of a face, to catch criminals, but Krakow Doctor Tomasz Kupiec, says HisirPlex offers significant improvements to such facial composites.


"For me the best argument for our method is facial composites. Current composites are so impersonal, they lack the eye and hair colour, which give the person character. With our system it's easier for people who knew this person or saw them when they were alive to recognise them."

During tests, the technology confirmed the hair and eye colour of former Polish Premier General Wladyslaw Sikorski, who died in a plane crash in 1943 The team produced a mock-up diagram based on the results of the DNA analysyis.


"It was an interesting experiment, which confirmed data known from historical sources. In this case Hirisplex worked very well, it had high accuracy. We verified that the General had blue eyes and blond hair."

Branciki's team are hoping to take the technology further, to perhaps reveal people's facial features, skin colour, age, or even hair loss, from their DNA.