Firm tests DNA of 9/11 vic­tims; method gives re­newed hope

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Bryce Baschuk

Dozens of sci­en­tists are work­ing around-the-clock in a Lor­ton, Va. lab­o­ra­tory to iden­tify the re­mains of 1,100 World Trade Cen­ter vic­tims.

In the past five years, the Bode Tech­nol­ogy Group has been hired to use its DNA test­ing to iden­tify the bone frag­ments from high-profile dis­as­ters such as the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks, Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina and the South Asian tsunami.

Two weeks ago, en­gi­neers work­ing at the World Trade Cen­ter (WTC) site dis­cov­ered more hu­man re­mains, and spe­cial­ists say the bones are so well-pre­served that the DNA will be us­able for anal­y­sis.

Bode was one of sev­eral na­tional com­pa­nies se­lected to iden­tify the re­mains.

“We are go­ing to ex­haust ev­ery­thing they send our way,” said Tom Hansen, a se­nior sci­en­tist at Bode.

The project to iden­tify the WTC vic­tims was put on hold about a year ago to wait for a bet­ter tech­nol­ogy to iden­tify the vic­tims, a Bode of­fi­cial said.

Many of the 20,730 hu­man re­mains found at the site are dam­aged and burned be­yond recog­ni­tion, said a spokesman for the New York Of­fice of the Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner.

Sci­en­tists at Bode have found suc­cess with a new tech­nique that ex­tracts DNA in­for­ma­tion from for­merly uniden­ti­fi­able hu­man re­mains.

When the best-pre­served sam­ples were re-an­a­lyzed with the new tech­nique, Bode had an 80 per­cent suc­cess rate, said Bode Vice Pres­i­dent Ed Huffine.

The sci­en­tists take small sam­ples from hu­man tis­sue, bones, blood, hair or saliva and ex­tract enough DNA to cre­ate an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion profile. When iden­ti­fy­ing WTC re­mains, the sci­en­tists ap­plied a chem­i­cal to dis­solve min­er­als from the bone frag­ments. The re­main­ing or­ganic residue was ex­tracted to iden­tify the per­son’s DNA.

The new method is more ef­fec- tive at sep­a­rat­ing DNA from the chem­i­cal so­lu­tion be­cause the process has led to less DNA con­tam­i­na­tion and a greater re­cov­ery of DNA from bone sam­ples.

“The DNA iden­ti­fi­ca­tion com­mu­nity thought it would be a lot longer for this tech­nol­ogy to come along,” Mr. Hansen said. “So it gives us a sense of pride to help out and bring clo­sure to the peo­ple af­fected.”

For the WTC vic­tims, Bode sends the DNA in­for­ma­tion to the New York Of­fice of the Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Em­ploy­ees at the of­fice then com­pare the DNA profile with a data­base of ge­netic in­for­ma­tion from the uniden­ti­fied vic­tims.

Bode has gained a strong rep­u­ta­tion for its work with in­ter­na­tional dis­as­ter man­age­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions in the af­ter­math of wars, geno­cide, ter­ror­ism, crime and nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

The com­pany also has been hired by law-en­force­ment agen­cies, crime lab­o­ra­to­ries and na­tional and for­eign gov­ern­ments to iden­tify hu­mans from sam- ples con­tain­ing DNA. Bode an­a­lyzes 800 to 1,000 sex­ual as­sault kits per month, and is of­ten asked to an­a­lyze DNA sam­ples from felons.

The com­pany has grown sig­nif­i­cantly since its found­ing in 1995. The staff has in­creased 50 per­cent to 110 em­ploy­ees, and Bode re­cently moved into a larger build­ing to ac­com­mo­date them. Dur­ing the de­sign phase of the new fa­cil­ity, the sci­en­tists asked the en­gi­neers to de­velop a workspace that would fa­cil­i­tate large projects, such as the WTC iden­ti­fi­ca­tion ef­fort.

Bode is a pri­vately owned sub­sidiary of ChoicePoint Inc., an Al­pharetta, Ga., com­pany that col­lects, sells ac­cess to and an­a­lyzes con­sumers’ per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. Bode would not dis­close in­for­ma­tion about its fi­nan­cial per­for­mance.

With no time frame for the WTC project, the Bode staff is pre­pared for a long haul.

“Any­time you are able to con­trib­ute to some­thing like this, you feel hum­bled by it,” Mr. Hansen said.

Nancy Pas­tor / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Miguel Marino, 37, pre­pares a DNA sam­ple at Bode Tech­nol­ogy in Lor­ton, Va., which was se­lected to help iden­tify re­mains un­earthed at the World Trade Cen­ter.

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