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‘Gamechanger’: The quest to solve thousands of missing person cases

Liam Bartlett
Article image for ‘Gamechanger’: The quest to solve thousands of missing person cases

Are you one of many people who have submitted DNA to one of those public genealogy websites to trace your family tree? These databases could hold the simple key to solving missing person mysteries.

Associate Professor Dr Jodie Ward, head of the AFP’s National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Person said this could be a “gamechanger” to link unidentified people with missing persons cases.

Routinely we upload DNA from the remains to our national law enforcement databases to try and find a match ,” she told Liam Bartlett.

“We have thousands of relative samples from missing persons.

“However, if we don’t get a match nationally, we’re hoping to upload that DNA to these public DNA websites that allow law enforcement searching to try and link to distant relatives.

“This is something we’ve never been able to do before.”

This already occurs in the USA, where cases like the “golden state killer” were solved by police using public DNA databases.

However, the technique is raising ethical and privacy concerns. Dr Ward said it will be an “opt-in” approach for people who are using these websites.

“We’re hoping to link the DNA of the deceased person to people who are living,” she said.

“The program has undertaken an extensive review of the privacy concerns so we can minimise the impact.

“When someone uploads their DNA, it will all be explained to them what could happen with the DNA.

“It is a volunteer process.”

Currently there are only three genealogy databases that allow law enforcement to search the DNA via this opt-in approach.

This Sunday is the start of National Missing Persons week. This annual week of action aims to raise awareness of the significant issues surrounding missing persons. The week is also used to profile long-term missing persons, and to educate the Australian community.

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(Photo credit: iStock by Getty)

Liam Bartlett