Maharashtra state to be the first to get Rs 2 crore Rapid DNA analysis machine

Mar 09, 2018, 10:45 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

State FSL pitches for state-of-the-art Rapid DNA testing kit that has been dismissed as 'not robust' and 'too expensive' by India's top labs and the FBI

The Rapid DNA Analysis machine
The Rapid DNA Analysis machine

The state government is on the verge of acquiring a R2-cr state-of-the-art Rapid DNA Analysis System to speed up criminal investigations, despite forensics scientists across the country panning the machine.

The fully automated system is said to give results in less than two hours and store over 1 million DNA profiles in its database. Maharashtra will be the first in India to have the high-tech system, which will be installed at the State Forensic Science Laboratory headquarters in Kalina. However, forensic scientists have said that in addition to being an expensive machine, the cost for each analysis sample is approximately R19,000. They have also said Rapid DNA technology is not suitable for crime scenes, as the instruments consume the entire sample, which is often irreplaceable.

Dr Bruce Budowle, professor, Texas
Dr Bruce Budowle, professor, Texas

Acting director at FSL, Kalina, Dr K Y Kulkarni said, "Our internal DNA committee carried out an extensive study and a report was submitted to higher authorities. Tenders were floated and a bidder showed interest. We made submissions to the government and await further orders." When asked if the new machine would help clear the 2,000 cases pending for DNA analysis, Kulkarni said it would only be used in high-profile cases. When asked about the adverse opinion of the country's forensic scientists, he preferred to not comment.

Interestingly, the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), Hyderabad, has already made a detailed submission to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL), Delhi, which had approached them for an opinion. CDFD had said the system would be expensive. Dr Harish Phatak, professor and head of the department of forensic medicine and toxicology at Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College and KEM Hospital, expressed the views of Dr Bruce Budowle, professor for Human Identification at UNT health centre, Texas, USA, who has worked for 26 years at the FBI laboratory. Budowle was among the panelists at the 24th All India Forensic Science Conference held in Ahmedabad in February, and had said that when the DNA analysis system was invented, FBI was keen on acquiring it, but later found it unfeasible for two reasons: firstly, it was not robust enough and, secondly, it was very expensive. mid-day tried to reach out to Dr Budowle in the US, but did not get any response.

Interestingly, Dr Phatak and his team were the first in India to moot the idea a year ago, but dropped the idea following a mixed response. Dr Shailesh Mohite, professor and head of the department of forensic medicine at TNMC Medical College and Nair Hospital, said, "This might turn out to be expensive, especially when it comes to extracting DNA for identification of mass deceased in natural or other disasters, where the victims cannot be identified or the remains are fragmented. Also, in cases of identification of corpses where the head is missing and body parts are at different places, it might be costlier, as each body part will have to be analysed separately."

Former forensic lab director Dr Rukmini Krishnamurthy said, "Most genetic tests take 24-72 hours, but the time for DNA analysis from crime scene to identification can take as long as a week. Rapid DNA is a good solution for fast results, but it has limitations, which is why no forensic lab in India has opted for this."

'Perfect machine'
DGP (Legal and Technical)
S P Yadav rubbished the apprehensions of forensic experts and said, “Rapid DNA analysis system will help eradicate allegations and counter claims that DNA samples and test results are doctored. Also, procurement cost of chemicals for DNA analysis will be zero. The sample testing cost will not be more than the existing cost of R8,000.”

Rapid DNA Analysis
It is the fully automated (hands-free) process of developing a CODIS DNA profile from a reference sample buccal (from inside a person's cheek) swab1 without human intervention or interpretation in less than two hours. CODIS or Combined DNA Index System, enables labs across the country to exchange DNA profiles electronically, linking serial crimes to each other and to known offenders.

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