Following the announcement that the National Assembly has passed the criminal law (forensic procedures) amendment bill, generally referred to as the DNA bill, it is now one step closer to being signed into law. This news means that the need for an effective DNA profiling solution is becoming more urgent, according to Nick Perkins, divisional director for identity management at Bytes Systems Integration.
He points out that once this bill becomes an act, DNA evidence collected by police investigating a crime scene will be required to be loaded onto a database under the crime scene index. The theory is that detectives will then be able to link criminals to crime scenes by taking DNA samples and checking them against the index. The DNA database will also be able to exonerate convicted offenders.
“However, there is a logical concern that a lack of resources, which has already led to serious backlogs at the country’s forensic science laboratories, will become more pronounced once this bill is signed into law,” says Perkins. This, he suggests, is due to the fact that a typical forensic DNA sample processing, from DNA swab submission to CODIS-format profile, can take weeks or even months to process.
“Turnaround times for sample processing are determined by both the complexity of instruments required to analyse DNA and the relative scarcity of scientists qualified to operate them. Clearly, once this bill comes to pass, the police force would ideally want a more efficient and productive system that could conduct such DNA analysis far more quickly.”
This is where Bytes is prepared to assist, as it can offer the RapidHIT 200 System, designed by IntegenX to overcome these challenges. It is a mobile, self-contained and automated human identification laboratory that is particularly well suited for analysing samples in those cases in which a multi-week turnaround for the analysis would be too long. Examples of these, states Perkins, include cases relating to missing persons identification, disaster recovery and immigration and border control.
“With the RapidHIT 200 System, sample processing can be performed in less than 90 minutes and does not require a standard laboratory environment. In fact, the system is entirely portable and is designed to withstand travel by airplane, truck and helicopter. This means that it can be set up within 30 minutes of placement at a site and no special conditions are necessary beyond a stable table or bench top,” he says.
Perkins adds that in tests, the RapidHIT 200 System has been used in offsite locations as diverse as a hotel room, beach, bunker, van and tent. Moreover, the system has successfully produced full profiles from diverse samples at these locations, including teeth, bottle necks, hat sweatbands, cigarette butts, clothing and several touch swabs.
“the solution has, during testing both by IntegenX and three other external organisations, been found to deliver 100% concordance with ‘regular’ DNA analysis performed in a lab. What really sets this solution apart, however, is that a user can be trained to operate the RapidHIT 200 System with as little as 30 minutes of training. In effect, IntegenX has developed a system that can enable police to run a DNA analysis, at the scene of the crime, without the need for a forensic specialist to be present.”
“The aim of the DNA bill is to improve conviction rates in SA, by revolutionising crime investigation in the country. By providing a completely portable, easy-to-use solution that reduces the process of DNA analysis from weeks to hours, Bytes can assist the SAPS in driving forward this revolution,” concludes Perkins.