‘With­out crim­i­nal data­bases, DNA ma­chine can’t work’

Tim Schell­berg, an ex­pert on DNA anal­y­sis tech­nol­ogy, says the much-talked­about Rapid DNA Anal­y­sis Sys­tem is not suited to In­dian con­di­tions

Mid Day - - CITY - VINOD KU­MAR MENON vin­odm@mid-day.com

WHILE the state Foren­sics Sci­ence Lab­o­ra­tory (FSL), Kalina, is in a tizzy over the pos­si­ble ac­qui­si­tion of the so­phis­ti­cated Rapid DNA Anal­y­sis Sys­tem that is said to help speed up crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions, an ex­pert on the is­sue be­lieves the de­ci­sion is un­wise.

Tim Schell­berg, Pres­i­dent of Gor­don Thomas Honey­well, Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs, USA, strongly feels that the ma­chine can­not be used for ac­tual crime scene anal­y­sis, and it is at present used only for ref­er­ence sam­ple anal­y­sis in ad­vanced coun­tries where DNA pro­fil­ing data banks are avail­able. In­dia may make use of this tech­nol­ogy, in years to come, when they have the data bank ready.

Schell­berg heads an advocacy com­pany that ad­vises the US gov­ern­ment on the use of tech­nol­ogy in crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions. mid-day had re­ported about In­dia’s foren­sic ex­perts pan­ning the ma­chine in its March 9 re­port ‘State bats for DNA kit shunned by all’.

He said, “We are un­cer­tain about the le­gal va­lid­ity of re­sults com­ing from Rapid DNA ex­am­i­na­tion and will have to wait un­til it is used for ac­tual case work. No doubt that the DNA find­ings will be cred­i­ble and re­li­able, but any­thing done in haste will only im­pact pub­lic trust ad­versely.”

He said, “DNA is a pow­er­ful sci­ence and is the best so­lu­tion for get­ting bi­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence from crime scenes, which will en­sure higher con­vic­tion rates. But, this needs to be done with the com­bined ef­fort of law-en­force­ment agen­cies, courts and the pub­lic at large.”

Tim added, “In west­ern coun­tries, ev­ery­one from the pub­lic to the po­lice, by de­fault, thinks of pre­serv­ing the crime scene in cases of sex­ual abuse or any bod­ily of­fences. There­fore, it is pos­si­ble to col­lect valu­able sci­en­tific ev­i­dence from crime scenes and the sam­ples are matched with the vo­lu­mi­nous stored DNA pro­fil­ing data of crim­i­nals. For in­stance, USA has a data bank of 3.5% of its pop­u­la­tion who have been held in some of­fence or the other.”

Fi­nally, Schell­berg has ad­vice for those push­ing hard for ac­quir­ing the Rapid DNA sys­tem. He said, “These tech­nolo­gies claim quick and ac­cu­rate DNA anal­y­sis, which is some­times mis­lead­ing. The ma­chine cur­rently has lim­i­ta­tions re­gard­ing sen­si­tiv­ity and is not suit­able for case­work sam­ple re­port­ing. It is six times more costly than the cur­rent high through­put Cap­il­lary Elec­trophore­sis tech­nol­ogy. It is im­por­tant to look at the avail­able tech­nolo­gies best suited for giv­ing high qual­ity re­sults in both case­work and data­base cre­ation at min­i­mal cost.”

“Can In­dia de­velop a pas­sion for DNA case­work sim­i­lar to other coun­tries with­out crim­i­nal of­fender data­bases?” he asked.

Mean­while, the FSL is set to sub­mit its de­tailed ten­der re­port for procur­ing the sys­tem to the state home depart­ment in the next few days and the fi­nal de­ci­sion lies with Chief Min­is­ter Deven­dra Fad­navis, who also holds the state home port­fo­lio.

Act­ing Di­rec­tor of State FSL Dr K Y Kulka­rni, said, “If we get the goa­head from the state gov­ern­ment by March 31, the ma­chine will be brought to FSL in two-three months. In-depth train­ing on the us­age of the ma­chine will then be con­ducted for the core team.”


Tim Schell­berg at the sem­i­nar on DNA: The Gamechanger in foren­sics past, present and fu­ture, at the Mum­bai Press Club.

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