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We provide independent analysis to the NSW Police Force for missing persons investigations requiring the examination of unidentified human remains. Our experts include:

  • DNA specialists
  • forensic pathologists
  • anthropologists, and
  • dental specialists.

This complex work often includes the recovery and profiling of DNA from human skeletal remains that are decades old and highly compromised by environmental exposure. The techniques used to recover DNA profiles from challenging skeletal remains have improved significantly in recent years, including the development of more sensitive DNA profiling kits.

It can take between 2 to 7 days to recover a DNA profile from unidentified human remains. Remains that have been subjected to fire, salt water or extended environmental exposure can be challenging, however the methods we use to extract and analyse DNA are highly successful.

Since 2019, all missing persons cases in NSW have been re-examined by the NSW Police Force and where possible, FASS has recovered DNA profiles from all long-term unidentified human remains. In many cases, a sample of recovered DNA, tissue or bone is retained should future DNA technology allow for even more advanced testing. The use of multiple profiling techniques such as Y-chromosome testing and mitochondrial DNA sequencing optimises the potential for identification and the recovery of previously unattainable DNA profiles from historical cases.

Recovered DNA profiles are uploaded to the National DNA Database where they are continually searched against DNA profiles recovered from personal items belonging to missing persons and profiles of individuals on the database.

In what is known as ‘familial’ or ‘kinship’ searching, DNA profiles from unidentified remains are also continuously searched against the profiles of relatives of missing persons and complex computer algorithms are used to identify potential biological relatives. This has provided many families of missing persons with answers that may not have been previously possible without advanced forensic capabilities.

In 2020 we used familial DNA searching to identify a jawbone found on a NSW beach in 2011 as belonging to a mariner lost at sea off the NSW North Coast in 1979.

If a DNA profile recovered from unidentified remains does not match samples on the National DNA Database, additional tools such as phenotyping and ancestry testing takes place. Phenotyping uses the DNA recovered from skeletal remains to predict the physical appearance of an individual, including characteristics such as hair and eye colour. This information can provide investigators with valuable information to assist in identifications.

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