AIIMS to DNA profile unidentified bodies, create a database accessible to public

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on July 19, 2019

DNA data of 750 unknown and unclaimed bodies will be stored in the database in the next three years   -  diane555

Some 40,000 unidentified bodies are disposed of by the police every year across the country. While most are natural deaths, accidents, suicides and homicides are also the other causes, especially among youth.

While these bodies have no claimants, what if someone turns up later searching for a lost/missing kin among the unidentified dead?

To answer just such queries, the Department of Forensic Medicine at All India Medical Institute of Medicine (AIIMS) here is now keeping a DNA record of unclaimed bodies.

Doctors from AIIMS said that within two months they will host the database on a website that people can access.

The pilot project to start retrieving DNA samples from unidentified bodies started in South and South-East Delhi in June. “The police declare a body ‘of unknown origin’ if nobody turns up to claim it in 72 hours. Depending on how mutilated the body, samples of organs, bones, hair or muscle tissue are retrieved for profiling the DNA,” said Chittaranjan Behara, Associate Professor, Forensic Medicine, AIIMS.

In addition to DNA profiling, Behara said the physical features of the body is also recorded in the form of photographs, fingerprints, body marks such as moles, tattoos, and scars. “We believe that a combination of genetic and physical features builds a substantial repository of information, which not only helps in identifying unknown bodies but also for solving crimes,” said Behara.

At present, DNA data of at least 20 unidentified have been stored and doctors aim at storing the data of 750 bodies in the next three years. AIIMS’ count of unidentified bodies is 200 every year, mainly from South and South-East Delhi. “Across Delhi it is about 1,000 and some 40,000 across India. The police are not able to identify bodies in more than 10 per cent of such cases,” Behara noted.

Tim Schelberg, Founder of Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs, cites how effectively DNA profiling helps solve crimes. In 2016, a body with head and hands missing was found in the desert of Dubai. “DNA helped established the identity as that of 37-year-old lady of Filipino origin. A male DNA sample was found on her clothes. The Dubai police collected DNA samples of 533 Filipino males. One of them, that of her ,nephew matched, and he confessed to killing her over a debt,” said Schelberg.

“Between 2006 and 2012, AIIMS performed 11,786 post-mortems. As many as 1,335 (11 per cent) of these bodies remained unclaimed, 91 per cent cases males with a mean age of 43 years,” Behara said.

Even if the unidentified bodies are disposed of after post-mortem, their information will attain an immortality of sorts in the AIIMS database. “In case a relative wants to check if a kin is among the unidentified dead, he can give a sample for cross-verifying with the database,” said Behara.

AIIMS is collaborating with the bio-informatics centre of the Indian Council of Medical Research and the Central Bureau of Investigation’s Central Forensic Science Laboratory for a three-year ₹1.5 crore project.

SK Gupta, Head, Toxicology in the Department of Forensic Sciences at AIIMS, said that the pilot was being conducted in the light of the fact that a Human DNA Profiling Bill is already in the offing. The Bill proposes to create a national data bank to store DNA profiles in criminal cases which include a clause for collecting DNA of bodies whose identity could not be established.

Published on July 19, 2019

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