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To Uncover Identities

An international DNA forensic organization is needed to respond to natural disasters and wars where expensive advanced DNA-based and computing technology are needed to identify remains, argue some forensic experts.

Currently, efforts to identify bodies after such incidents is haphazard, NPR's All Things Considered reports. For example, after the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, a number of experts went to Thailand to identify Western tourists who died there, and, as Tom Parsons from the International Commission on Missing Persons tells NPR's Christopher Joyce, it was "a mess" as the groups did not coordinate their efforts or agree on what approach to take. Interpol wound up stepping in, and most of the 900 bodies identified were Thai, who Joyce says, may not have been otherwise identified.

"Our concern was that there should be a mechanism in place that would allow access to DNA identification beyond just ability to pay," Alex John London, a medical ethicist at Carnegie Mellon University says. "Too often if there isn't a funder out there, then people who are missing relatives won't get access to the technology."

London suggests that a DNA identification organization in the vein of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which sends inspectors to nuclear sites, be formed to respond to disasters. In a related Science policy article, he and his colleagues note that such an organization would face difficulties, especially in cases where governments have turned on their citizens.