Though DNA has revolutionized modern crime fighting, the clues it may hold aren’t revealed quickly. Samples of saliva, or skin, or semen are sent to a crime lab by car (or mail), and then chemists get to work. Detectives are accustomed to waiting days or weeks, or more, for the results. Some labs are so backed up, they only take the most serious crimes. Some samples never get tested.
But a portable machine about the size of a large desktop printer is changing that. A “Rapid DNA” machine can take a swab of DNA, analyze it and produce a profile of 20 specific loci on the DNA strand in less than two hours. Some local police departments and prosecutors have been using Rapid DNA machines for about five years to solve crimes.
In Orange County, California, recently, police investigating a stabbing found a trail of blood from the suspect. The Rapid DNA machine was able to produce a profile that matched someone already in the Orange County database, but who was “not on the radar” of investigators, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Contini said. He was arrested. “The speed with which you can give law enforcement these clues is critical,” Contini said. “When you are out on these suspects fast, they confess. We’ve had tremendous success.”
And last month, one of the two manufacturers of Rapid DNA machines, ANDE of Waltham, Massachusetts, shipped six of the machines to California for use in trying to identify victims of the massive wildfires there, using DNA from family members to create a temporary searchable database.