LAB’S UNIQUENESS, SERVICES, AND NEED
A “forensic” laboratory is a lab that extracts, tests, and analyzes DNA to help with solving a crime, or to identify a deceased person. DNA testing has become integral to the investigation of crimes in developed countries. Until May 2020, there were only two types of forensic labs in the United States: government labs, and private for-profit labs.
Government laboratories do not charge for testing. However, law enforcement agencies often send samples to private labs for several reasons. First, government labs are severely backlogged (This is discussed further below). As a result, they often limit the number or type of items that can be tested. Second, government laboratories often lag in adoption of advanced technology. For example, in May 2019, the FBI certified a new type of Next-Generation Sequencing DNA equipment (MiSeq FGx, manufactured by Illumnia and distributed by Verogen). In describing the FGx, the FBI stated that “NGS [Next-Generation Sequencing] has been established as a worthy methodology for future DNA casework application, and the [FBI DNA Support Unit’s] studies with the Illumina platform have demonstrated its utility in recovering probative data from a much greater range of samples types and qualities than current technique, streamlining the overall DNA typing process and greatly reducing the cost of the same.” Our non-profit lab purchased an FGx, which has been validated and is operational. By contrast, most state crime labs are not expected to have an operational FGx for up to two years. Similarly, most state crime labs have not yet adapted to accept DNA extracts using the M-Vac System. The M-Vac is a vacuum-like device that extracts DNA from porous and difficult-to-reach surfaces. More than a dozen homicides have been solved recently using the M-Vac, but the law enforcement agencies were required to pay a premium to private labs to have the service performed.
As noted, a handful of private for-profit laboratories provide DNA testing to law enforcement and others. From public records and our own knowledge of the cost of DNA testing, it appears that these laboratories have a substantial markup – sometimes 300-400 percent – reflective of the lack of alternatives, and the continually growing demand for DNA testing.
SERVICES PROVIDED BY THE
The lab has completed its validation, and is now receiving law enforcement case work. More discriminatory DNA results through Next Generation Sequencing produce more “conclusive” results, including in cases with a mixture of contributors, which strengthens prosecutors' cases. In addition to extraction, quantification, and sequencing of DNA itself, the lab will also offer “phenotyping,” which is creating an image of what a subject might look like, using predicted eye, hair, and skin color.