April 2003 - Volume 5 - Number 2

Short Communication

Regional mtDNA Laboratory Program

The FBI's appropriation for fiscal year 2003 includes $4,000,000 in recurring funds to operate four regional mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) forensic laboratories in affiliation with the FBI Laboratory. The program is intended to provide mtDNA analysis of human remains or other evidence to assist law enforcement in identifiying missing persons or criminal perpetrators. Congress expects that affiliation with the FBI Laboratory will ensure adherence to uniform standards and procedures by participating laboratories.

It is premature to announce the Regional mtDNA Laboratory Program in detail, but plans are sufficiently developed to provide this overview. Before the end of the year, the FBI Laboratory plans to award multi-year cooperative agreements to four accredited, publicly funded state or local forensic laboratories (partner laboratories). The agreements would pay direct costs associated with establishing and operating mtDNA analysis units, including salaries and benefits, equipment and repair, space modifications, supplies, and travel.

Using current mtDNA technology, the FBI Laboratory can analyze approximately 120 mtDNA cases annually with two-three person teams. Sufficient, suitable laboratory and office space must be available for processing mtDNA evidence and housing mtDNA analysts. To minimize start-up time, partner laboratories will be expected to dedicate mtDNA trainees full-time. Trainees must be experienced DNA examiners or PCR-qualified biologists. In addition, laboratories must have at least two qualified hair examiners to examine hair evidence, currently about 80 percent of mtDNA cases.

Each partner laboratory will retain a significant portion of mtDNA capacity for cases originating in its jurisdiction, but a service area will be designated in the laboratory to be the alternative to the FBI Laboratory for mtDNA analysis. Proposed service areas would focus on jurisdictions that do not have enough cases to justify an mtDNA unit. Noncontiguous service areas could be proposed, but excluded areas must be justified. The FBI Laboratory will provide mtDNA analysis for state and local cases from jurisdictions outside designated services areas.

The FBI Laboratory estimates it will take approximately two years from the time a cooperative agreement is signed until a partner laboratory can begin mtDNA casework. FBI Laboratory personnel will work with each partner laboratory to train mtDNA examiners, biologists, and hair examiners. Cooperative agreements will require partner laboratories to be accredited in biology and trace evidence by ASCLD/LAB or an equivalent program. Proposals that minimize start-up time will receive preference.

The instructions and application information to be considered for the Regional DNA Laboratory Program will be published in the July 2003 issue of the Forensic Science Communications.

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