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Genetic Experts of Hopkins Assists In Identifying Hurricane Katrina Victims

do not involve any genetic material."

In DNA-marker testing, a person's unique genetic makeup is matched against other previously known samples or, if none exist, samples taken from family members, looking for unique genetic traits or markers specific to the individual or family. The results from the DNA analysis can be used alone or combined with other information, such as body location and distinguishing features, for the state coroner to make an official identification.

Compiling a genetic picture of the family, however, requires an accurate construction of the family tree, so that the minimum amount of genetic information needed can be obtained from siblings or parents, or from cousins and grandparents.

Tracking this process for each missing person and casualty involves tremendous attention to detail, adds Pugh, who helped the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory's DNA unit set up one of the computer systems and protocols that will guide the identification process. She points out that the whole identification effort follows strict confidentially rules to protect people's privacy.

A person's DNA contains all the genetic information passed down from their parents, but slightly different - though mostly similar - combinations are passed along to siblings. Recognizable but distinct patterns can be seen in cousins, but with greater difficulty, and often requiring specialized tests. Statistical methods are used to compare and match DNA samples to determine how likely it is that genetic markers for an unidentified deceased person fit into the pattern of genetic markers observed in relatives of someone reported missing.

According to Pugh, genetic testing is made easier by commercially available computer software programs to analyze DNA results. These programs can statistically match any individual with genetic material from the same person or with that of family members using as few as 16 unique genetic
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