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A standalone humanitarian DNA identification database system to increase identification of human remains of foreign nationals


The identification of missing persons and human remains is a worldwide problem which has been exacerbated with increased migrations and rampant human trafficking and smuggling cases. DNA typing and DNA databases are primary tools and resources used to help identify human remains and missing persons. The foundation of most, if not all, national DNA database systems, e.g., CODIS, is law enforcement identification. With such database systems, compliance with statutory and operational requirements is necessary to ensure the integrity of the databases. However, because of conditions in their homelands, relatives of missing persons at times may not trust the government and may be reluctant to contact a law enforcement agency, making it difficult to satisfy the law enforcement nexus necessary for entry into a national DNA database. A potential solution to increase the identification of unidentified human remains found within the USA, such as those that may be of foreign nationals, the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification (UNTCHI) has created a Humanitarian DNA Identification DNA Database (HDID) that enables family reference sample DNA profiles from non-US citizens to be compared with the DNA profiles from unidentified human remains within its local database system. This short communication describes the needs, basis, policies, and practices to inform the scientific, investigative, and legal communities and the public so that various entities may become aware and consider submitting family reference sample (FRS) profiles from foreign nationals for the purpose of searching against UNTCHI’s HDID. It is our hope that by creating this HDID, another vehicle is available to support identification of human remains within the USA and to bring much needed answers to the family members of missing persons. The HDID will merge high forensic quality and best practices with the broader accessibility for non-US families to voluntarily donate DNA profiles for searching for missing loved ones.

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We would especially like to thank Patricia Aagaard, Paula Pagano, and Noreen Ahmed for their very thoughtful and helpful comments regarding the content of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Bruce Budowle.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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None for generation of the subject matter, but forms required before reference samples are submitted to the database (as described in the paper)

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Budowle, B., Bus, M.M., Josserand, M.A. et al. A standalone humanitarian DNA identification database system to increase identification of human remains of foreign nationals. Int J Legal Med 134, 2039–2044 (2020).

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  • Human remains
  • Missing persons
  • Identification
  • DNA databases
  • Humanitarian database
  • Family reference samples
  • Policies