May 12, 2015

Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL)

The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL), a division of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, was established in 1991 as the only Department of Defense (DoD) forensic DNA testing laboratory for the identification of human remains. AFDIL’s present day accounting and past accounting sections provide the DoD and other Federal and International agencies with human identification DNA testing support in the areas of personnel accounting, national security, law enforcement, humanitarian missions, and defense. The primary missions of AFDIL are to provide: (1) forensic DNA testing of remains and other biological evidence in support of identification efforts through its past accounting section, which supports the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), as well as its present day accounting section, which supports the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner; (2) to create a conflict-specific mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), autosomal short tandem repeat (auSTR), and Y chromosome short tandem repeat (Y-STR) family reference database for use in the past accounting identification process; (3) to modify or create new methods to increase the present and past accounting sample success rates; and (4) to provide worldwide consultation, research, and education services in the field of forensic DNA to the DoD and other agencies. From 1998 until August of 2014, AFDIL was accredited by American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors - Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB), and was the 178th forensic laboratory accredited in the United States. In June of 2014, AFDIL was assessed by ASCLD-LAB – International Accreditation of Forensic Science Testing Laboratories and found to be in compliance with the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) 17025, ASCLD/LAB Forensic Requirements, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations Quality Assurance Standards (FBI-QAS) for Accreditation. AFDIL received its international accreditation on August 11, 2014.

In the Laboratory-Past Accounting

Once samples are received by AFDIL for processing from the DPAA laboratory, the skeletal elements or biological material is signed over to an evidence custodian who photo-documents the remains and enters the information into the laboratory’s information management system. The Technical Leader assigns samples to a team and the evidence custodian signs the specimens over to a DNA analyst for processing. Case samples are processed on a rolling basis, in the order they are received, unless the DPAA laboratory changes the priority of a specific sample. The AFDIL has approximately 300 samples in progress at any one time. The samples are then cleaned, ground into a powder, and the powder is dissolved, which release nuclear and mitochondrial DNA into a solution. The DNA is then purified, concentrated and analyzed using mtDNA and/or Y-STR and/or auSTR testing methods. Each specimen is processed in duplicate, and the final results have to match in order for DNA results to be reported. The average turn-around-time for processing a sample in duplicate is approximately 85 days. The DNA results, when appropriate, are compared to the Family Reference Database and these results are reported back to the DPAA laboratory. The entire testing procedure is carried out in the “Blind”; this means that AFDIL DNA analysts do not know the potential identity of the individual for the specimen being tested, but do know the conflict (i.e. Vietnam, Korea, or World War II), and where the remains were found (i.e. Viet Nam, Korea, Papua New Guinea). It is important for the AFDIL DNA analysts to know where the bones were recovered from and what type of loss (i.e. air, ground, water), as each location has specific environmental or chemical conditions (i.e. acidic soil, metal ions, embalming) that may affect testing; and knowledge of this ahead of time will allow AFDIL DNA analysts to choose the most efficient extraction and testing methods.

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