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