Molecular Biology

VIDEO: Senior Scientist Joy Beyer and Scientist Michelle Spiden on VIFM’s DNA and Molecular Biology services.

On This Page:

Molecular Biology Laboratory (MBL)

About Nuclear DNA Analysis

About Mitochondrial DNA Analysis

Case Studies: How DNA Can Solve Crimes

Contacting the MBL
 

Molecular Biology Laboratory (MBL)

Molecular Biology Laboratory
The VIFM’s Molecular Biology Laboratory (MBL) provides DNA typing services for:

  • The identification of human remains
  • Missing Persons investigations and
  • Other matters that require DNA analysis.

The DNA testing laboratory began in 1989 and has extensive experience in the field of forensic DNA technologies and DNA profiling.  The MBL is NATA accredited to perform DNA analysis using both nuclear DNA (nDNA) and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) techniques, utilising purpose built laboratories and specialist trained scientists.

In addition to its coronial casework, the MBL has provided DNA analysis as a service to external clients since the early 1990s, assisting in the investigation of serious crimes.

 

NATA logo

 

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TURNAROUND TIMES FOR DNA ANALYSIS

This is case-to-case dependent.  For nDNA analysis, it routinely takes four weeks to complete the analysis of a forensic sample, and two weeks for a standard sample.  For mtDNA analysis, it routinely takes four weeks to complete the analysis of a sample regardless of the sample type.

 

Each evidentiary sample is processed separately and prior to any comparison/reference sample(s).  Multiple samples will be staggered in their processing (approximately one week apart).  Based on the information provided by the client, the MBL will provide an approximate timeframe for the testing to be completed, and will inform the client of any delays.

 

 

 

About Nuclear DNA Analysis

WHAT IS NUCLEAR DNA ANALYSIS?

nDNA is a complex molecule that carries all the genetic information that determines our inherited traits.  Routinely, nDNA has been analysed using Short Tandem Repeat (STR) analysis to generate what are known as nDNA profiles.  STR analysis involves the study of specific DNA regions (locus), and can vary in the number of regions examined.  The VIFM analyses 16 DNA regions (including sex determination) as part of its nDNA profiling.  As a biological substance, nDNA can degrade making its recovery difficult, or impossible, from samples that have been subjected to harsh conditions.

Example of a nDNA profile

Example of a nDNA profile

HOW CAN NUCLEAR DNA ANALYSIS ASSIST IN AN INVESTIGATION?

As nDNA is unique to individuals (except for identical twins!), nDNA profiling can be used to determine if a forensic or criminal sample of interest could have originated from a person in question; with the likelihood or probability of a match reported.  Additionally, due to its mode of inheritance (we inherit ½ of our nDNA from each biological parent) nDNA profiling can be used to determine genetic relationships (kinships) between two individuals (e.g. parent/child relationship).  Hence, nDNA profiling can be used in the identification of unknown human remains.

The VIFM has extensive experience in the recovery of nDNA profiles from challenging samples such as decomposed human remains, skeletal human remains, and tissue blocks, with findings provided in a written report able to be presented in court (as needed).

DNA extraction

DNA extraction from a human bone sample

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

About Mitochondrial DNA Analysis

WHAT IS MITOCHONDRIAL DNA ANALYSIS?

mtDNA is a form of DNA that can be recovered and analysed to yield what are known as mtDNA profiles (or haplotypes).  mtDNA is present in greater numbers in each cell (100-1000s copies per cell) in comparison to nuclear DNA (nDNA) (one copy per cell), and is fairly robust in nature.  Unlike nDNA, mtDNA is maternally inherited; hence, all the individuals in the maternal lineage in a given family will share the same mtDNA type.

mtDNA quant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOW CAN MITOCHONDRIAL DNA ANALYSIS ASSIST IN AN INVESTIGATION?

The higher sensitivity of mtDNA analysis makes it particularly useful in criminal or forensic investigations.  mtDNA can be recovered from forensic samples from which nDNA cannot be obtained for conventional STR typing.  The samples suitable for mtDNA analysis include human hair shafts (pictured below), skeletal remains (bones and teeth), or any other biological samples (such as blood stains or tissue blocks) that fail to yield a nDNA profile.

Hair fibers

Samples suitable for mtDNA analysis include human hair shafts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its maternal mode of inheritance makes it particularly useful for the investigation of missing persons when direct relatives (e.g. parent/child) are not available to provide a comparison sample, or when a nDNA profile is not available for unidentified human remains.

Family tree diagram

Figure depicting a family tree for a missing female person. Shown is the missing person (Missing Person 1), a brother and their parents. A DNA profile is available for the father and brother (shaded orange)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The MBL Staff at the VIFM have over 20 years of combined experience in the analysis of mtDNA, with findings provided in a written report able to be presented in court (as needed).

 

 

Case Studies: How DNA Can Help to Solve Crime

Click on a case studies below:

 

Contacting the MBL

REQUESTING DNA ANALYSIS

The MBL staff at the VIFM will be able to answer any questions you may have regarding sample suitability for nDNA and/or mtDNA analysis, transportation and chain-of-custody, as well as time frames and costs of testing.

Email: dna @ vifm.org
Tel:  +61 3 9684 4337    Fax: +61 3 9682 7353.