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New DNA test developed at Salt Lake lab could help solve 'cold cases'

Published: Saturday, March 12 2011 11:40 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Inside an ordinary beige brick building off West Temple and about 2500 South, technology is being developed that could help police departments across the country crack "cold cases."

This building is home to Sorenson Forensics, where an ancestry DNA test has been created to help police investigators better identify, or eliminate, possible suspects.

"This really is brand new stuff," said Lars Mouritsen, chief scientific officer for Sorenson Forensics. "There are some other tests that have been developed that are similar in some respects, but none of those really are focused for the forensics industry."

It's a test that has been in the works for the past few years.

Using genetic samples, Mouritsen's team can get a better idea of what someone may look like.

"You have maybe DNA from a suspect, but you have no idea what the suspect looks like and no other leads," said Mouritsen. "It will take a person and it will basically look at what their affinity is to anyone of these five populations."

Those five populations, or ethnic groups, are African, Asian, Indian subcontinent, Indigenous Americas and Western European.

The test won't give police an exact picture of what someone looks like, but it can help give investigators a better idea.

Or, maybe more importantly, possibly eliminate certain ethnicities.

"This is just another piece of technology that will help us in the evidence," said Unified Police Department Lt. Justin Hoyal. "It'll certainly help us in solving our cold case homicides and narrowing down our suspect pool."

Hoyal said volunteers from his office were part of an experiment with Sorenson Forensics.

DNA oral swabs were taken and the results were pretty much spot on.

"They had some good results," Hoyal said.

"Right now, we're claiming that it's about 97 percent or greater," Mouritsen said.

Sorenson Forensics is showcasing their new technology to police departments at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences convention in Chicago this week. Some police departments are showing an interest in this technology.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm about this test," said Mouritsen. "One detective told our guy he has a bunch of DNA samples he would love to send us."

When it comes to cold cases, police say any clue helps.

"You never know what it could lead to," said Hoyal. "And it'll also help us when we have some unidentified remains. It could help narrow down that victim and maybe tell us what that person is we're trying to identify."

e-mail: acabrero@desnews.com

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