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Interpol unveils global database to identify missing persons through family DNA

Interpol is now using I-Familia, a groundbreaking new database officially launched this month that applies cutting-edge scientific research and uses the DNA of relatives to identify missing persons or unidentified human remains around the world.

Family members’ DNA profiles can be compared to that of an unidentified body or human remains through what is known as DNA kinship matching. This method is often used when a direct sample from the missing person – from a prior medical sample or a personal item such as a toothbrush – is not available.

However, complex calculations are required to confirm a match because biological relatives share differing percentages of the DNA. This complexity is magnified when undertaken at the international level, due to the genetic variation among populations across the world.

Genetic

I-Familia is the first global database to automatically control for such differences without requiring knowledge of the missing person’s genetic ancestry and provide standardized guidelines on what constitutes a match.

“Identifying missing persons globally has always been challenging, due to the lack of data exchange procedures combined with the scientific complexity of statistical interpretation,” said Dr Arnoud Kal, senior forensic scientist at the Netherlands Forensic Institute - one of the world’s leading forensic laboratories.

 

Missing

“Therefore, we believe the development by INTERPOL of I-Familia opens up new opportunities for member countries that will positively impact the effectiveness of international missing person investigations”, Dr Kal added.

 

I-Familia is made up of three components:

  • A dedicated global database to host the DNA profiles provided by relatives, held separately from any criminal data;

  • The DNA matching software, called Bonaparte, developed by Dutch company Smart Research;

  • Interpretation guidelines, produced by INTERPOL, to efficiently identify and report potential matches.

 

The Bonaparte technology uses advanced statistical algorithms to calculate the probability of a match compared against an interpretation table. This powerful software can perform millions of calculations in a short space of time. The result is then interpreted by forensic DNA experts at the INTERPOL General Secretariat.