Skip to main content
Featured ArticlesNews ReelParabon Nanolabs

Snapshot™ Gives Crime Solvers a New Way to Use DNA

By December 17, 2014No Comments
Parabon Nanolabs Snapshot Results

Dr. Greytak’s Snapshot prediction as compared to her actual photo.

Parabon NanoLabs, Inc., a DNA technology company that develops next-generation forensic and therapeutic products, is proud to announce the Snapshot™ DNA Phenotyping Service, an investigative forensics service that produces a descriptive profile from any human DNA sample.  Snapshot predicts physical characteristics including skin pigmentation, eye and hair color, face morphology, sex, and genomic ancestry, and can identify distant familial relationships between samples.

Now available, after three years of development with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Snapshot provides a first-of-its-kind capability for determining the physical appearance and other characteristics of an individual from a DNA sample, whether it is from an active crime scene or skeletal remains. These results provide investigators with information that can help determine the identity of suspects and victims.  In addition to identifying the traits an individual is likely to have, Snapshot also produces high-confidence trait exclusions — for example, it might report with >99% confidence that a particular individual does not have brown or black eyes.  Knowledge of what traits can be excluded from consideration allows investigators to greatly narrow their investigation and direct their resources more effectively.

“Snapshot leverages recent advances in DNA sequencing technologies,” Ellen McRae Greytak, Ph.D., Parabon’s Director of Bioinformatics, explained. “It takes advantage of modern SNP technology, along with so-called ‘big data’ high-performance computing (HPC) techniques, to translate genetic markers into a number of different phenotype predictions.  It can also be used to identify distant familial relationships between two DNA samples, such as second or third cousins, which is significantly more powerful than traditional STR-based analysis. For investigators, when CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) fails to find a DNA match, their cases often go cold; a Snapshot forensic profile, however, can generate new leads and help resolve those cases.”

Snapshot requires <1 nanogram (ng) of extracted DNA, and good results have been obtained with just 50 picograms (pg) of DNA.  (A nanogram is a unit of mass equal to one billionth of a gram and there are 1,000 picograms within one nanogram.) Parabon scientists have built predictive models for each trait using data collected from thousands of known subjects across multiple data sources. Snapshot analysts then run the genotype data collected from each unknown DNA sample through these predictive models to produce a final phenotype prediction report. Snapshot reports are generally produced within 30 days from receipt of a DNA sample and rush orders can be filled in less than two weeks.  More information can be found at or by calling (703) 689-9689 x251.

Parabon Nanolab's Snapshot Chart

Using genomic data from large populations of subjects with known phenotypes, Parabon’s bioinformaticists have built statistical models for forensic traits, which can be used to predict the physical appearance of unknown individuals.