SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nov. 21 - Bosnia and Herzegovina is not known for its exports. But its recent wartime history has led to the development of an expertise that this Balkan country is now sharing with one of its main supporters, the United States.
At the end of the 1992 - 1995 war in Bosnia some 30,000 people remained missing, many of whom were presumed killed and buried in mass graves scattered around the country. In response to the tragedy, the Sarajevo-based International Commission on Missing Persons has adopted high-throughput genetic testing methods and an advanced computer program used for identifying the victims' remains.
After the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, the US called on the ICMP, which receives its funding from Western donor nations, for its help in identifying the remains of the people who perished in the World Trade Center.
The United States Department of Justice invited 20 DNA scientists "to try and develop a strategy to use DNA as efficiently as possible to identify the bodies," Edwin Huffine, director of the ICMP's DNA program, told GenomeWeb. "We helped to develop the protocols."
Huffine, who was one of the 20 scientists to attend the meeting with the New York Medical Examiner, said that the ICMP was asked to contribute aspects of its computer program, which matches the DNA from the remains of those killed with samples given by family members.
"One of the primary things the computer people liked was the logic and flow of our system and the way it ties all of the data together," Huffine said.
The program, which was developed by a local ICMP employee, stores DNA fingerprints from the victims as well as those generated from samples provided by family members. The ICMP is currently working on getting and inputting samples from the families of missing people so that the second a match comes up, the families can be contacted and they can receive the remains for burial.
The ICMP estimates that of the 30,000 missing bodies in Bosnia and Herzegovina more than two-thirds are Muslim, while 4,000-7,000 are Serb and just under 1,000 are Croat.
Huffine said that an undisclosed American software company was now going to develop the software program that would be used to identify the victims of the Sept. 11 attack. The contributors to the program will also receive copies of the software for use in their own programs.