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NGS on the Forensics Horizon

Linda Seaton
| Oct 30, 2012

The University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) and its Institute of Applied Genetics are located on what must be the only hill in Fort Worth. From the windows outside his lab, the Institute’s Executive Director, Bruce Budowle, Ph.D. has a beautiful view of downtown and Dallas in the distance. As a professor in the Department of Forensic and Investigative Genetics, he has an equally expansive view about the future of forensics. His team of researchers balances case work and human identity testing with research and development into new technologies, such as next-generation sequencing. Their goal is to determine the best ways to apply and optimize NGS and other methods, and develop protocols that streamline their use in forensic analysis. Dr. Budowle believes that NGS will be a transformative tool in forensics, providing the flexiblity to address a number of forensic challenges. For example, most forensic samples are small and often degraded. That limits the type and number of analyses that can be performed using current technologies. NGS not only offers higher quality results, it enables multiple analyses to be performed simultaneously on each sample. And with multiplexing capabilities, labs will be able to process more forensic samples at once.

NGS also provides a more comprehensive view of the genome, not just the core set of STR markers used today by forensic labs. The ability to compare more markers could make the difference in identifying a suspect or a missing person. It also enables molecular autopsy, where genetics is used to identify the cause of death, and microbial forensics for suspect identification and biosecurity work. It’s clear that NGS will bring a wealth of benefits to forensic genomics, bringing closure to families, enabling law enforcement agencies to get their man (or woman as the case may be), and clear the innocent much earlier in a case. Law breakers beware!