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As DNA testing technology evolves, questions and criticisms arise

| Apr 7, 2016 | Sex Crimes |

“[N]ot pleased” is the word choice employed by one national genetics expert regarding the use of so-called “low copy number DNA analysis,” which is a decidedly 21st-century tool used in some criminal investigations that has recently become embroiled in controversy.

Here’s why. The technique — which piggybacks on myriad technological innovations that have emerged to influence genetics research over the years — now enables forensics researchers to use very small amounts of DNA source material to run what a recent New York Times article on low copy analysis calls “ever-more-sensitive” tests.

Proponents of the relatively new technology are patently enthused by what it is enabling researchers to accomplish. In the realm of criminal law, police investigators using low copy DNA are able to submit ever-smaller genetic samples to lab technicians for testing. They say that the tool will help them to solve many more cases.

Not all comments — as noted in the lead sentence of this post — so uniformly laud the evaluative tool and its possibilities.

And the fundamental reason for criticism is simple, notes the Times. The smaller the DNA sample size submitted for testing, “the greater the risk that [it] will yield the wrong result.”

In other words: Low copy number DNA analysis brings a heightened risk of contamination, which can bring about devastatingly unjust results for a criminal defendant in a given case.

It is certainly noteworthy that the ex-director of the forensic toxicology lab in New York City’s medical examiner’s office recently filed a lawsuit against the city, stating in her complaint that reservations she had about low copy testing led in part to her forced retirement.


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