Edmonton police forensic investigators to test speedy DNA technology

The Edmonton Police Service will test a novel technology that processes DNA samples in a couple of hours instead of the days or weeks often required by conventional laboratories.

Microwave-sized machines test biological samples in a couple of hours

Edmonton police will become the first Canadian police service to pilot the ANDE Rapid DNA Identification System. The company says the technology helps solve crimes faster and expedites closure for victims.   (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The Edmonton Police Service will test a novel technology that processes DNA samples in a couple of hours instead of the days or weeks often required by conventional laboratories.

The Forensic Services Branch will take part in a 90-day pilot project with ANDE Corporation, the Colorado-based DNA-testing company said in a news release Wednesday.

ANDE's rapid DNA identification systems are automated machines designed to interpret biological samples without the need for a qualified technician.

The microwave-sized machines can analyze a cheek swab or blood sample in about 90 minutes, allowing investigators to test whether a suspect is tied to a crime minutes after their arrest.

'Changing the paradigm'

The speed of the process is "changing the paradigm for law enforcement," the company said. It said the technology will stand up to scrutiny in court.

"Although the processing steps and data interpretation in the Rapid DNA system are essentially identical to those used in conventional labs, with Rapid DNA, the samples are processed and the resulting data interpreted automatically," the company said in a statement. 

"The DNA ID is based on the size of approximately 20 fragments of 'junk DNA' and does not reveal information about an individual's appearance or medical or behavioural conditions. This level of privacy removes human bias, delivering objective information to inform investigations." 

ANDE company officials say their machines are "changing the paradigm for law enforcement." (ANDE/Facebook)

Law enforcement agencies across the United States are already using the technology to identify suspects, solve cold cases and identify disaster victims. 

This year Kentucky became the first state to use Rapid DNA for solving rape cases. The technology also helped identify victims of the 2018 Paradise, Calif., wildfire and the deadly Conception dive boat fire off the coast of Santa Cruz, Calif., in September 2019.

The Department of Homeland Security plans to begin using the technology later this year to vet the identity and kinship claims of refugees and immigrants, ANDE says on its website. 

Rapid DNA technology has not been without controversy. Critics have suggested the technology requires more scientific testing. Others have warned that ever-expanding DNA databases pose a threat to individual privacy.

EPS will be the first police service in Canada to use the company's rapid DNA identification machines, ANDE said.

"Policing as a whole is transforming, and a significant component to our strategy is leveraging technologies that can create immediate value and impact," EPS Chief Dale McFee said in the company's news release. 

"We are pleased to be piloting the use of Rapid DNA for a public safety mission here in Canada, and we are looking forward to the results of this trial."

Insp. Devin Laforce said the police service has watched the development of Rapid DNA over the past several years, "and we now need to see how it actually works in real life conditions. 

"It is important that we do what we can to solve crime, and tools like this can make a difference."


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