September 19, 2012, 10:09 AM — It's been the FBI's dream for years -- to do near-instant DNA analysis using mobile equipment in the field -- and now "Rapid DNA" gear is finally here.
The idea is that you simply drop into the system a cotton swab with a person's saliva, for example, and the "Rapid DNA" machine spits out the type of DNA data that's needed to pin down identity. Now that such equipment exists, the FBI is pushing to get it into the hands of law enforcement agencies as soon as possible. [Also see: "FBI building system that blows away fingerprinting"]
"DNA has emerged as the gold standard in forensics analysis," Steven Martinez, executive assistant director of the science and technology branch at the FBI, said in his keynote address to attendees of the Biometric Consortium Conference in Tampa on Tuesday.
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Though the genetic information contained in an individual's DNA, which is in all human cells, has been used since the late 1980s to solve crime cases, analysis of DNA has remained frustratingly slow because DNA had to be sent to special labs to be analyzed. New "Rapid DNA" devices are now ready to be evaluated and the FBI has received two basic types.
One is called the RapidHIT, which is made by IntegenX, a Pleasanton, Calif.-based company whose CEO Stevan Jovanovich was in the exhibit hall to explain how the Rapid DNA device can spit out an individual's DNA data within 90 minutes.
Another company, NetBio, is also believed to have delivered its Rapid DNA-type equipment to the FBI, Jovanovich says, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is expected to play an important role in helping certify systems and processes for how these boxes will be used by the FBI and local police stations to collect DNA data on suspects.
Jovanovich notes that the networked IntegenX RapidHIT box, which is based on a hardened version of Windows and measures about 27-by-24-by-16 inches, costs about $245,000. RapidHIT boxes are already in use with intelligence agencies, says Jovanovich, who adds he's not at liberty to say which ones or what they're doing with them.
The FBI, which is believed to have upwards of 10 million DNA records on individuals already stored in databases, anticipates a significant expansion of DNA collection by means of Rapid DNA equipment.