Coping with Data Bottleneck
The continuing improvement of the sensitivity of extraction and amplification techniques has led to an increased amount of information available, owing to the increased likelihood of recovering DNA profiles from degraded and/or extremely small samples.
One of the few drawbacks of high throughput—if it can be called a drawback—is the mountain of data that it generates. “Greater automation is a big trend in the field,” said Mike Cariola, svp, forensic operations at The Bode Technology Group.
“We’ve noticed that, as we’ve developed automation to process samples in the lab, the bottleneck has shifted to data analysis—and that has become the new bottleneck of casework.”
Bode provides high-throughput DNA testing services, casework analysis, missing person identification, private and CODIS databanking of convicted offenders or arrestees, as well as paternity and nonforensic identification. “We do collections from crime scenes, handling about 6,000 cases a year, and about 100–200 thousand convicted offenders samples,” said Cariola.
“There are six million files in the U.S. database, and states are gradually taking on more of the processing. Although there is an increase in the number of players in this field, overall our numbers have generally increased, due in part to an increase in the number of backlog cases we take on, and also in part because of the global reach our company has.”
Cariola’s talk focused on the development of a forensic DNA case-management system to address these bottlenecks, as well as the increase in cold hits. He noted that the demands of the field test automation processes.
“We deal with very individual samples of varying sizes and quality,” he explained. “Degraded and challenged samples are a problem to a laboratory information management system (LIMS). You put in 2,000 database samples, you have one application. Two thousand forensic casework samples all need different amplifications, are of varying quality, and have individual requirements. None of the LIMS providers out there meet this need, so we made our own.”
Bode developed Bode-SIMS, which assists in standardizing processes, to integrate with robots for the automation of processing, sample analysis, and management of samples. This product, customized to meet the varied needs of law-enforcement crime laboratories, leads to enhanced quality control and efficiency of forensic DNA sample processing.
“This is the template most organizations are working from—building better analysis capability into software,” said Cariola. “A number of talks at the conference were on the software side, and one of the big trends we see emerging in casework is automating the process to interpret mixtures. And when you have complications in the sample, it’s a challenge for analysts to interpret that mixture.”