Tuesday, September 15, 2009

CODIS: A Short Introduction

by blogger kjs

We've all seen those forensic shows: scientists putting things in tubes, extracting DNA from blood or semen and then running it through CODIS. Well, what is CODIS? If you asked any crime-scene-show-watching aficionado, they probably would tell you it's the "computer thing that catches the bad guys". While that's partially true, the real brains behind the operation lies in the FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia.

CODIS, or COmbined DNA Identification System, is the National DNA Index System that contains of roughly 6.7 million offender DNA profiles from every state. It consists of two types of biological profiles: Forensic profiles, those with unknown DNA, and Offender profiles, DNA that has a name. The FBI currently processes over 5,000 samples in one month and hopes to jump to 90,000 by the year 2010!

With this system in place, states can make matches from an unknown DNA profile (Forensic profiles) to known profiles (Offender profiles) across state lines. In Alabama, forensic profiles have matched offender profiles in more than 20 states. This tool is helpful in the preventing of crimes by repeat offenders, whether or not they decide to remain within state lines.

2010 is a special year: The FBI and many states will begin implementing a new law which allows the collection of DNA profiles from felony arrestees; currently, only convicted felonies require DNA to be put into the database. The FBI will also be collecting samples from detained non-U.S. citzens to put into the system. The number of profiles will grow and so will the work to put them into the system, which provides a little light for DNA analysts looking for relief in the job market.

“We went from federal offenders to arrestees and detained non-U.S. citizens,” said Robert Fram, the special agent in charge of the F.B.I. laboratory division. “We don’t know where, or if, the number of profiles will plateau.”

The FBI is also employing robotics to help with the influx of offender profiles. Robotic machines will handle and place DNA in tubes during its various stages of analysis, preventing contamination and error, both of which have been hot topics in the field of forensic biology.

The future of this system is unknown but the present is certain: it is saving lives, both inside and outside of prisons and paving the way for technological advancement within the forensic science community.


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