More than 1 million migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 during a massive immigration from the Greater Middle East and Africa to Europe. Deaths at sea rose to record levels in April 2015 when five boats sank with an estimated death toll of 1,200 people. One of the worst disasters was a fishing boat carrying nearly 1,000 people that sank off the coast of Libya. News reports state the accident happened after people saw a merchant ship in the distance and scrambled to attract its attention, overturning the crowded vessel. The Italian coast guard was only able to retrieve 28 survivors. In the months after the deadly shipwreck, only 118 bodies were recovered with hundreds more presumed to be trapped below deck. The Italian government created a task force to recover the boat and identify the victims.
The Forensic Genetics lab at the University of Pavia was brought in to use DNA analysis to identify some of these victims. However, the challenge was extracting DNA from human remains that had been submerged in seawater for 3–14 months. This prolonged exposure to water can damage DNA, making identification difficult. Bone samples from 80 individuals were prepared for DNA extraction and the recovered DNA was then used for STR analysis using the PowerPlex® ESX and ESI 17 Fast Systems. These kits were provided by Promega Italy to help with the effort to give names to the shipwreck victims. Work is ongoing to compare the DNA profiles generated by the STR kits with antemortem records to give closure to those wondering if their loved ones were aboard the sunken fishing boat.
Providing Tools Needed in Forensics and Paternity Laboratories for Their Workflow
Forensics and paternity laboratories deal with unrelenting caseloads and tight turnaround times. Dependable results, fast throughput and reliable product supply are critical in this setting. These labs use limited, and often challenging samples, to develop investigative leads from crime scenes. Sexual assault evidence kit backlogs and property crime samples are some of the more challenging samples for labs to process. In addition, forensic labs process large numbers of reference samples to populate local, state and national databases. These reference databases help law enforcement connect arrestees to other crimes, helping to identify possible repeat offenders. The ongoing testing of the rape kit backlog has identified over 1,000 suspected serial rapists in the United States alone.
In addition to analyzing evidence collected at crime scenes, forensics and paternity labs help bring closure to families whose loved ones are missing or lost in mass disasters, and even help exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted of a crime. Researchers and analysts need to know that they will get optimal and reliable results from the valuable and often irreplaceable samples.
More than ever before, labs will be able to gain more information from challenging sample types, save time with increased sample processing capacity, and experience the flexibility to add samples during runs. All of this will be available with the same high level of service and support that customers have come to expect from Promega.
We have worked with forensic and paternity laboratories for more than 30 years and support their challenging workflow procedures by providing advanced technologies for efficient DNA extraction through discriminating STR analysis.