Virginia company using new DNA technology to help law enforcement solve cold cases

Cold cases all across the country have gone unsolved for decades, but there is a DNA breakthrough that is helping investigators track down suspects as a Virginia company is using state-of-the-art technology to make this all possible.

Parabon NanoLabs is using two new kinds of DNA identification processes to help law enforcement solve their cases. One process creates an image very similar to that of the suspect while the other can identify a suspect - right down to their name in some cases.

Human DNA is so much more than just science. It's the blueprint of who we are. It's a precise identification unique to each human being.

"We are basically providing them a genetic witness just from that DNA telling them here is a description of the person you are looking for," said Dr. Ellen Greytak, Director of Bioinformatics at Parabon NanoLabs.

It is called Snapshot DNA Phenotyping and Parabon NanoLabs scientists are using DNA from crime scenes to read hundreds of thousands of genetic markers from a single sample to create an image in the likeness of that person.

"We can actually read the information in the DNA that led to that person's physical appearance and give the investigators a prediction of who they should and most importantly should not be looking for," said Greytak.

This process has already helped law enforcement around the world generate new information in close to 200 cases.

"We describe exactly what we found, how confident we are in these results and how we recommend you use them," Dr. Greytak said.

Parabon NanoLabs said it has developed a new resource for law enforcement often used alongside Snapshot Phenotyping. It is called Snapshot Genetic Genealogy - a DNA scanning process that can in some cases narrow the search down to a single name.

Both of these DNA identification processes were used to identify John Miller. He was arrested earlier this month for the murder of an 8-year-old Indiana girl in 1988.

"We will see that agency basically wants to use it for all of their cases or all of their violent crimes at least because they see the power," said Greytak.

The composite that is created is not a photograph, but simply an approximation. Attributes such as changes in weight or tattoos cannot be predicted by DNA.

When Parabon NanoLabs gets the DNA, it takes about four days for system to go through millions of lines of DNA while the entire process takes about 45 days. Then they are able to send their findings off to law enforcement.