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Thanks to the work carried out by University of Twente Ph.D. candidate Brigitte Bruijns, crime scenes can now be inspected on the spot for the presence of human DNA. In her Ph.D. thesis, she describes a lab-on-a-chip that rapidly indicates whether a trace discovered at a crime scene contains human DNA and, thus, whether it should be examined in the laboratory.
Every year, the Netherlands Forensic Institute (Nederlands Forensisch Instituut, NFI) carries out more than 100,000 DNA analyses. Half of them do not result in usable DNA profiles and are only fit for the bin. This will soon be history thanks to the lab-on-a-chip investigated by Bruijns. This technological breakthrough clearly indicates whether a trace discovered by a police officer or forensic expert is worth further examination. The answer 'NO' means that he or she should move on immediately and look elsewhere for traces that are usable. The answer 'YES' means that human DNA is present and that the trace is to be taken to the forensic laboratory for DNA profiling.
Screening - Lab-on-a-chip - Miniscule - Device - Laboratory
This indicative screening is carried out using a lab-on-a-chip, a miniscule device on which various laboratory techniques are integrated. The device only needs a minimal sample to be able to analyse a trace. Its closed system enables immediate analysis at the crime scene and the risk of (cross-)contamination is greatly reduced.
In her Ph.D. thesis, Bruijns describes the five steps that are integrated on the lab-on-a-chip:
Experts - Swabs - Cotton - Buds - Samples
Sampling. Forensic experts currently use swabs, which are similar to cotton buds, to take samples and this is where. A lot of cells remain behind on the swab and can no longer be removed from it.
The workup of the DNA sample. Or, in other words, the lysis of cells. This is the breaking down of cells to get at the DNA, possibly followed by extraction and purification.
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