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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Brilliant doctor develops DNA study

    Fans of the television show “”CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”” may be familiar with the various tactics used to solve crimes. A new study developed by UA researchers may give real-life investigators a new way of narrowing down suspects.

    What started out as a study on the different genes affecting albinism has now turned into a useful forensics tool.

    Led by Murray Brilliant of the Steele Children’s Research Center, this study looks at genetic differences in hair, skin and eye color in order to potentially describe what someone looks like.

    “”There are cases where a blood spot or semen sample is left at a crime scene and there are no witnesses,”” Brilliant said. “”We can’t give them a picture but we can give them a description.””

    The study involved using cheek swabs gathered from 1,000 people, who researchers met on the UA Mall, to create their DNA blueprint. The blueprint was then compared to data samples of participants’ hair, eyes and skin.

    With the new technology, investigators could find out within three days what a person might look like, based solely on the DNA.

    “”It’s not 100 percent accurate, closer to 80 percent,”” Brilliant said. “”But 80 percent accuracy is more accurate than an eyewitness account.””

    For hair color, this data can estimate with accuracy around 80 percent. For skin color, it’s around 50 percent, and eye color is around 76 percent, he said.

    Skin color has a lower percentage of accuracy due to the diversity of the U.S. population, Brilliant said.

    “”It’s kind of a melting pot and you can’t really say this person is absolutely this or that,”” he said.

    Robert Valenzuela, a genetics doctoral candidate, said he did most of the statistical analysis during this study.

    “”What’s really unique (about this study) is that we came across different populations,”” he said. “”Other studies just focus on one particular population.””

    Brilliant said the diversity of UA’s campus was also very helpful.

    The National Institute of Justice, which is the research arm of the Department of Justice, spent $680,000 to fund this study and was very interested in the forensic aspect.

    “”It’s like parallel goals,”” Brilliant said. “”My goal is to understand how these genes contribute to normal pigmentation and the Department of Justice is interested in new forensic tools.””

    This isn’t the only study out there involving differences in genes. Brilliant said others are working on similar studies.

    “”There’s a lot of effort being put into genes that are associated with behaviors,”” he said. “”It’s turning into a very detailed kind of way to look at a person,””

    As far as forensics are concerned, Brilliant said his lab won’t be too involved.

    “”This is a research lab, this is not a crime lab,”” he said. “”They have their own standards for crime lab samples … so I’ll let them deal with that.””

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