Parabon NanoLabs (Parabon) announced today a contract award from the U.S. Army Research Office and the Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency to extend the range and sensitivity of the company’s Snapshot Kinship Inference software for the DoD’s Past Accounting Mission and, more generally, defense-related DNA forensics. Although Snapshot is best known for its DNA phenotyping capabilities (predicting appearance and ancestry from DNA evidence), it also has the ability to accurately predict distant kinship relationships, currently out to six degrees of relatedness (e.g., second cousins once-removed). Under the new contract, Snapshot will be recalibrated on a larger number of reference samples to further improve its accuracy and increase the kinship distances it can predict. Distant kinship inference is an indispensable capability for connecting families with unidentified loved ones who perished in long past conflicts because often the only remaining family members are too genetically distant for traditional DNA analysis to be used. By increasing the genetic distance at which relatedness can be inferred, Snapshot will enable identifications to be made that heretofore have not been possible.
Parabon scientists will also work with the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL), a Division of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, to explore the sensitivity limits of genome-wide SNP genotyping on highly degraded samples, since SNP genotypes are the critical input to Snapshot analysis. Boasting some of the country’s most talented DNA forensics experts, AFDIL is ideally suited for this aspect of the study, as its mission – to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing US personnel – often calls for analysis of extremely old and highly degraded remains. Together, Parabon and AFDIL hope to use the resulting enhanced Snapshot technology to identify many more of the 83,000 service members who remain missing from World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the Cold War. Dr. Steven Armentrout, co-founder of Parabon and principal investigator on the project, stated, “It is an honor to be selected for this project and we look forward to delivering Snapshot technology that will help AFDIL with this important mission.”