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Technology

#32: Fake DNA Fools Crime Lab

The science is accurate, but the sample may not be.

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DNA evidence has become a standard forensic tool because it can pinpoint one individual out of millions. But the Israeli company Nucleix has shown that it is distressingly simple to make a phony DNA fingerprint.

In Nucleix’s experiment, researchers took a small bit of DNA (which can be collected from an object like a cigarette butt) from a test subject, replicated it millions of times over, and used it to build an artificial DNA sequence. They then added the built-up DNA to blood that had been processed to remove the original, DNA-containing white blood cells. When analyzed by a leading forensics lab, the mixture was indistinguishable from real blood and natural genetic material. Going a step further, the researchers fabricated artificial DNA using only sequence data and added it to a saliva sample. This fake also passed inspection.

Although the experiment was done entirely with commercial technology, DNA expert Larry Kobilinsky of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York doubts that most criminals would have the skills to pull it off. Just in case, though, Nucleix has developed a test that can screen for fake DNA.

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