Specialised DNA Analysis Techniques and Unidentified Human Remains

Massive parallel sequencing 2The Forensic Biology/DNA team has optimised methods for DNA recovery from highly compromised human remains, including skeletal remains and hair samples.

This work provides vital information in identifying unknown human remains for missing person investigations, disaster victim identification investigations and homicide investigations.

DNA can be extracted from bone (including teeth and nails), tissue, blood and/or other bodily fluids that may be present on clothing or other surfaces. The Forensic and Analytical Science Service examines crime scene exhibits to locate and identify biological fluids and cellular evidence.

We have been highly successful in recovering DNA profiles from aged bones, including some over 100 years old from the First World War. 

Specialised techniques include Y-chromosome testing and mitochondrial DNA sequencing and phenotyping which uses the DNA recovered from crime samples or the skeletal remains to predict the physical appearance of an individual, including characteristics such as hair and eye colour, and geographic ancestry.

Familial DNA Searching 

Once a DNA profile is recovered from unidentified human remains it can then be compared directly to DNA recovered from personal effects of a missing person such as a toothbrush, or with that of family members in what is known as “familial DNA” searching.  Familial searching can also be used for crime samples when there is no direct match to a person on the DNA database. A link to a biological relative can provide investigative leads to police in a criminal investigation. 

Familial DNA searching uses complex computer algorithms to identify potential relatives who have provided their DNA to an existing database. The closer the biological relationship, the greater the chance that a relative will be identified.  This has provided many families of missing persons with answers that may not have been possible without advanced forensic capabilities.

For example, in 2020, the Forensic & Analytical Science Service used familial DNA searching to identify a jawbone found on a NSW beach in 2011 as belonging to a mariner lost at sea off the NSW North Coast in 1979. You can learn more about this case on the NSW Police Investigations podcast episode called “Lost At Sea” which can be found here. https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/safety_and_prevention/policing_in_the_community/podcast