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Mitochondrial DNA

 Mitochondrial DNA


The Mitochondrial DNA Unit (mtDNAU) examines biological items of evidence from crime scenes to determine the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence from samples such as hair, bones, and teeth. Typically, these items contain low concentrations of degraded DNA, making them unsuitable for nuclear DNA examinations. The unit also maintains the National Missing Person DNA Database (NMPDD) program for the identification of missing and unidentified persons and the Scientific Working Group DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM) mtDNA Population Database, which is an integrated software and database resource for forensic comparison.

The Team

Biologists, forensic examiners, and management and program analysts.

The Work

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)

The high sensitivity of mtDNA analysis allows forensic scientists to obtain information from items of evidence associated with homicides or other criminal investigations, body identifications, cold cases, and small pieces of evidence containing little biological material. The maternal inheritance of mtDNA allows scientists to compare the mtDNA profile from the evidence (hairs, bones, etc.) to that of reference samples from the individual; the individuals mother, brother(s), sister(s); or any other maternally related family member. These samples should have the same mtDNA profiles because all maternal relatives inherit the same mtDNA. Since mtDNA is maternally inherited and multiple individuals can have the same mtDNA type, unique identifications are not possible using mtDNA analyses. However, mtDNA is an excellent technique to use for obtaining information in cases where nuclear DNA analysis is not feasible.

Case Acceptance

The mtDNAU accepts and examines cases from FBI field offices; other federal agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense; U.S. Attorney offices; and international law enforcement agencies through FBI legal attaché offices in matters involving U.S. citizens or international investigations. State and local law enforcement agencies needing mitochondrial DNA analysis must contact the mtDNAU at (703) 632-7572 for more information regarding evidence submission.

National Missing Persons DNA Database (NMPDD)

On May 4, 2001, the Laboratory Division initiated the NMPDD program for the identification of missing and unidentified persons using the National DNA Index System (NDIS) of the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The NMPDD contains three parts in which missing and unidentified person DNA profiles can be entered: biological relatives of missing persons, unidentified human remains, and missing persons.

Scientific Working Group of DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM) mtDNA Population Database

The unit currently maintains the SWGDAM mtDNA Population Database.

Submitting Samples for Analysis

To submit samples to the Mitochondrial DNA Unit for analysis, use this form.

Contact Information

If you have any questions about mitochondrial DNA testing, please contact us at (703) 632-7572. If you have questions regarding submission of evidence to the FBI Laboratory, please contact the Laboratory’s Evidence Control Unit (ECU) at (703) 632-8360.