Successful DNA analyses on missing Mexican remains

Novel DNA technology applied at the Institute of Legal Medicine, Medical University of Innsbruck, Austria, yielded successful results in severely damaged Mexican remains.

Researchers at the Institute of Legal Medicine, Medical University of Innsbruck, adapted a novel technology known as Primer Extension Capture Massively Parallel Sequencing (PEC MPS) to successfully type highly damaged DNA. The method has been adapted to meet the stringent quality standards required in forensic genetics.

The scientists demonstrated that this method enables identification of biological material that is too damaged for conventional forensic DNA analysis.

The Institute of Legal Medicine received 17 severely burned samples from Mexico in November 2014. One sample was identified as belonging to one missing Mexican student using conventional DNA technology. This was reported in December 2014. The remaining 16 samples did not yield DNA results using conventional forensic DNA fingerprinting.

With PEC MPS the researchers were able to generate DNA profiles for nine of the 16 challenging samples. In two samples they found human-specific mitochondrial DNA. One sample matched the relevant family references of the previously identified student, the other sample matched the relevant family references of another missing Mexican student. The two mitochondrial DNA profiles were unique in the set of family references of the missing students provided to the Institute. No other family reference sample matched either of the two.

The remaining seven samples brought results not related to human mitochondrial DNA. The biological source of these seven samples will be determined using metagenome analyses, which is currently under way.

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