By Sasha Gonzales and Kevin Deutsch
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State officials this week granted a permit to a private company to perform genetic genealogy testing and other controversial genetic analysis on crime scene DNA samples in New York – the first license of its kind ever issued here, Bronx Justice News has learned.
The Department of Health issued the forensic laboratory permit to Parabon NanoLabs, a Virginia-based company that markets forensic genealogical testing and consultant work to law enforcement.
Parabon said the permit was granted following an extensive state review of its forensic validation results and procedures. State officials also conducted an inspection of the company’s facilities and an on-site audit of Parabon’s scientific processes.
Here’s how Parabon’s work with New York law enforcement is expected to work:
An agency like the NYPD would consult with Parabon to determine whether it has enough DNA available for profiling. If it does, the sample would be sent to a genetic analysis lab where scientists would create a DNA profile with an accompanying trove of data.
Parabon would then test that profile against public genealogical databases, and use the genetic data to perform phenotyping: the prediction of physical appearance and ancestry of an unknown person from their DNA, as well as kinship inference analysis: the determination of kinship between DNA samples out to nine degrees of relatedness (fourth cousins).
Among the more controversial work done by Parabon is phenotype analysis, which can determine a person’s likely hair color, eye color, skin tone, face shape, and other characteristics—all from a DNA sample.
Retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Mark Wilson, the Director of Forensic Science at Parabon, said Parabon’s work “has truly revolutionized the field.”
“I have not seen anything so game-changing in my 29 years working in DNA forensics,” said Wilson, who led the company’s certification effort in New York. “It’s exciting to be able to bring these technologies to New York investigators in an attempt to solve both cold and active cases.”
Company officials said detectives with unsolved violent criminal cases with DNA evidence are invited to contact Parabon at https://snapshot.parabon.com/request-info.