26 September 2023

DNA program to identify missing people

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The Australian Federal Police (AFP) have begun testing unidentified human remains in Canberra as part of the country’s first National DNA Program to resolve long-term missing persons’ cases.

The AFP’s National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons launched in August last year and called on law enforcement Agencies around the country to send unidentified bone and teeth fragments, which were held in police and forensic facilities, to Canberra.

In a statement, the AFP said the Program’s nation-wide audit recorded 850 sets of unidentified human remains.

“Some of the remains have been stored in morgues for up to 70 years, while others were only discovered last year,” the AFP said.

“There are about 2600 long-term missing persons in Australia who have been missing for more than three months,” it said.

“In a bid to help give families much-needed answers, a team of AFP forensic specialists in Canberra will use the latest forensic techniques and databases to link the samples to known missing persons.”

The AFP said as well as searching dental records and DNA profiles for matches, forensic specialists were using new tools to estimate an unidentified individual’s year of birth and death; ancestral origin; hair and eye colour; facial appearance; and genetic relatives.

Program lead at AFP, Jodie Ward said these were not just case numbers, but 850 unknown individuals who had names, families and stories that were yet to be discovered.

“Human remains determined to be of coronial significance will now undergo a series of forensic examinations in the hope of restoring their names and faces and providing answers to families and police that have been searching for them for years,” Associate Professor Ward said.

“The Program’s success relies on families providing police and forensic investigators with vital information, records and samples for comparison,” she said.

“Along with recovering DNA profiles from the bones, we need DNA profiles from relatives of every missing person.”

Associate Professor Ward said the AFP was also seeking the missing person’s personal effects, medical samples, dental records, physical information and photographs.

She encouraged anyone with a long-term missing relative to register to participate in the Program by emailing [email protected].

“It is particularly important for the Program to be informed of individuals who went missing decades ago, including disappearances that were never formally reported to police,” Associate Professor Ward said.

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