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World Trade Center identifications pushed forensic DNA technology

At the end of more than three years, New York City's Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) identified 58 percent of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack victims, thanks to innovative genetic analysis techniques, intergovernmental and family cooperation and the perseverance of dedicated forensic scientists, according to a recent book by Dr. Robert C. Shaler, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and director of the forensics science major program at Penn State.

"As of April 2005, when the process was suspended, we had identified only 1,592 out of the presumed 2,749 who died," said Shaler, the former director of the department of forensic biology, OCME, New York City and the man responsible for overseeing the DNA identification of World Trade Center victims.

From the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001 until his retirement in July 2005, Shaler oversaw New York City's efforts in identifying victims through DNA analysis. In the process of identifications, he and his colleagues pushed the edges of science and the technologies applicable to forensic investigations.

"We lacked the tools needed to do the job properly or efficiently," Shaler said in his recent book, "Who They Were: Inside the World Trade Center DNA story: The Unprecedented Effort to Identify the Missing," (Free Press 2005). He adds the staff had "No bar-coding capability, no laboratory information management system . . . to keep track of samples."

Worse than a laboratory not ready for the monumental effort of identifying the victims of this disaster were the problems inherent with the remains. While about 2,749 people died in the disaster, there were 19,915 individual samples to analyze, identify and return to victims' families. Of these, forensic scientists identified 54 percent. DNA analysis of one kind or another played a part in 89 percent of all identifications and was the sole method of identification in 86 percent of the cases.

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Source:Penn State


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