The FBI has chosen the Connecticut State Police Forensic Science Laboratory as one of four that will perform mitochondrial DNA testing, an expensive, new process that can help solve cold cases or identify decayed human remains. The Hartford Courant says the designation comes with more than $1 million for training, renovations, and up to nine employees at the laboratory, the brainchild of Henry C. Lee, a nationally known forensics expert and former public safety commissioner. The FBI also picked labs in New Jersey, Arizona and Minnesota.
Mitochondrial DNA testing, also done at the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., can cost up to $10,000 per case, which has made it too expensive for the state to do regularly. With federal aid, the state lab will be able to conduct up to 120 tests a year. About 30 will concern Connecticut cases, and the rest will come from cases elsewhere in the country said. The testing is expected to start by September 2005.
The testing has helped identify suspects in high-profile local cases. Mitochondrial DNA testing also has been used to identify the remains of missing Vietnam War veterans and World Trade Center victims. “It’s a very good, important technology, something we have wanted to do for a long time,” said Dr. Carll Ladd, a DNA scientist at the lab. In Connecticut, hundreds of cold cases that were never tested for DNA – because the evidence was too decomposed – could be reopened.
DNA testing relies on typing the nucleus within each cell. But as evidence decays, so does the nucleus, making testing impossible. There are thousands of mitochondria within each cell, allowing scientists to test for them in samples of hair, teeth, old bones, and decayed remains.