Dealing with human remains is a sensitive issue, but one that has profound implications for the application of justice, discovery of hidden truths and consolation of family and friends.
Now, a team of Chilean researchers has developed a technological breakthrough that will enable the identification of severely decayed human remains – without causing further damage.
Current forensic practice uses fingerprints as a means of identification, but in the case of traumatic deaths that leave severely damaged remains, or when a significant amount of time passes until a body is discovered, this is not always an effective technique.
In such cases, DNA is often extracted from the victim’s teeth, which retain genetic information longer than other parts of the body. This is a problematic procedure, however, as it breaks open the tooth and restricts its use for further evidence gathering.
The new technology, developed by a Chilean team from the Universidad de Los Andes, is designed to address these issues by extracting pulp from the core of the tooth.
“We developed a method – which we can’t yet reveal because of possible patents – that has been proven to allow DNA extraction without tooth damage,” the project’s lead researcher, Patricio Carrasco, told Diario Financiero.
“This permits the tooth to be used as evidence and also, from a more human point of view, it means that intact remains can be given to the family, who in so many cases are left with nothing,” he said.
Though currently a professor at the Universidad de los Andes, Carrasco is a forensic orthodontist who has worked for Chile’s Servicio Médico Legal, a public institute that supports the country’s judicial system and Ministry of Justice. In the 1990s he was involved in the identification of people who disappeared during the Pinochet dictatorship, and he began his current investigation into DNA extraction in 2009.
According to Carrasco, the Chilean research team is currently in advanced talks with a national public forensic institute to make the new technique a standard procedure. And as soon as March 2012, the team expects to receive additional funding to begin exporting the technology to the world.