Whole Genome Amplification Holds Massive Potential as a Powerful Tool in Contemporary Forensic Science

Oct 10,2018

Biological evidences have always been touted crucial when it comes to crime investigation; however the use of methods such as genomics in forensics has been restricted over the years, compared to their use in other application areas – including agriculture, veterinary research, drug discovery and development, and disease diagnostics. A wide range of technological and scientific developments is transforming the forensic biology ecosystem, warranting the impeccable ability to identify, capture, and convict criminals in the near future.

With DNA testing as a cornerstone, several countries are meticulously maintaining criminal intelligence databases. On the other hand, the number of cases wherein DNA testing plays a pivotal role, is also increasing with each passing day – such as kinship testing, identification of missing people, ancestry investigation, and similar applications related to human identification. Forensic scientists are constantly striving to develop novel, more powerful methods of forensic analysis.

Expanding Application Base to Take Charge of Diverse Forensic Cases

While the DNA typing technique has been a breakthrough in revolutionizing forensic biology, the standard DNA typing protocol permits negligible quantity of forensically relevant DNA samples, which cannot accommodate the typical low copy number (LCN) samples involved in forensic cases. Whole genome amplification was first trialed in forensics with an intention to augment the recovery of high-quality and high-quantity DNA profiles. Whole genome amplification (WGA) is most commonly used for human identity analysis, biosecurity studies, fingerprint analysis, and genotyping. However, consistent research efforts, escalating R&D funds, and technological advances are visibly playing a vital role in creating diverse application areas of whole genome amplification in the forensic biological testing field.

Discerning Physical Traits & Demographic Information

Precise prediction of the age of humans, recognition of monozygotic twins, and interpretation of exact human behavior have been among the most longstanding challenges faced by forensic professionals.Some of the advanced methods that identify the DNA methylation patterns hold the promise to aid in discriminating various samples of DNA, which have been collected at the sites of crime. Moreover, researchers are constantly working on broader applications of DNA methylation analysis in identifying single or mixed body fluids, predicting addiction and behavioral patterns, and recognizing ethnicity or race.

As the next-generation sequencing (NGS) technique advances, the forensics industry is likely to witness rapid development of more applications of DNA methylation datasets – strengthening the prospects of detailed investigation. A recent research study has dug deeper into a novel, most promising potential application of WGA, i.e. the prediction of human physical traits and demographic information from the genomic data available at the site of crime. Predicting face and voice, age, even eye color and skin color, and weight could emerge as the most recent applications of WGA. This research also promises to enable the prediction of a person’s height and Body Mass Index (BMI) with the help of whole genome amplification techniques.

Is NGS the Potential Headway to Allow Highly Targeted Forensic Testing in Critically Complicated Cases?

Several research teams worldwide have been looking forward to new and enhanced testing capabilities with ongoing developments in next-generation sequencing technology. As NGS can enable generation of data that traverses the whole genome and resolves multiple queries within a single assay, scientists are currently taking efforts to address more targeted or specific attributes such as facial morphology, type of hair, and shape of ear, nose, lip line, and other detailed facial features. As a result, the forensic testing space may soon witness the introduction of incredibly specific identification capabilities prominently driven by next-gen sequencing technology. The most promising advantages of NGS include the capability to assess even the smallest, highly mixed, and most compromised samples of evidence.

Illumina, a pioneer in directing genomic methods for forensic testing, is continually supporting and enhancing efforts towards the targeted use of genomics in forensics, including whole genome amplification.

Relatively Untapped Potential of WGA in Microbial Forensics

Another study focused on analyzing the ratio of the microbiome population present on human bodies to the total number of human cells has concluded it to be approximately 4:3. With such minute results to refer to, microbial forensics has emerged as an attractive discipline that could be excellently employed in forensics for the assessment of assorted evidences related to various criminal cases such as fraud, bioterrorism, accidental release of toxins or gases or any biological agents. The success of this study may even provide forensic professionals with an excellent technique to resolve cases involving rape and physical assault - with more efficiency and accuracy.

Joining the Dots in Sexual Assault Cases? WGA Could be the Key Tool

Several sexual assault cases often remain unresolved due to the availability of mixed DNA profiles. To overcome challenges posed by the presence of mixed profiles, a differential extraction method is already being used to separate spermatozoa and vaginal cells collected from intimate swabs. Despite this, it is infeasible to identify the suspect’s DNA on the basis of the insufficient DNA quantity of single cells that is often available at crime scenes, as it is inadequate for processing in conventionally used techniques.

Also, the method of differential extraction fails to offer accurate results when the sample contains sperms of different individuals, especially in cases of gang rape. Although whole genome amplification steps in as a promising technique here, mixed profiles can be overcome only through the analysis of single spermatozoa. WGA has been proposed as an efficient method for single sperm cell DNA profiling, as it first conducts a pre-analysis of DNA extracted from the sample to generate the template in the desired quantity. Researchers conclude that the entire technique still demands a higher level of sensitivity to be successful in case of a single sperm cell.

Portable forensic labs – a recent success of the forensic biology realm – is believed to be the future of forensics that would allow scientists to conduct their research in real time, right at the sites of crime and produce fast track results. With such state-of-the-art technological platforms, forensic facilities are further believed to specialize in handling complicated cases of identification of mass disaster victims, or missing people, more efficiently. Although WGA is yet to demonstrate its full potential in routine forensic testing applications, a recent research on the adoption of whole genome amplification techniques in various application areas indicates that the next few years are likely to witness a promising rate of WGA adoption in forensics.

The above insights are sourced from a detailed market intelligence outlook on the whole genome amplification marketpresented by expert analysts working in the Life Sciences domain at Future Market Insights.

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