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Qiagen, FBI Partner to Develop Digital PCR Forensic Test

NEW YORK – Qiagen said on Tuesday that it has signed a cooperative research and development agreement with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to jointly develop a PCR test for use in forensics and human identification.

The partners plan to create an assay to improve the quantification of DNA in human samples using the Qiagen QiAcuity digital PCR systems. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

The collaboration involves the FBI's laboratory division, a group within its scientific and technology branch. With sites in Quantico, Virgina, and Huntsville, Alabama, the lab division is tasked with collecting, analyzing, and sharing timely scientific and technical information.

The goal is to develop and evaluate a digital PCR assay to simultaneously quantify nuclear, mitochondrial, and male DNA. The assay will also include quality control markers that signal sample degradation and PCR inhibition.

"This novel digital PCR assay could benefit the FBI and other forensic laboratories," said Eric Pokorak, assistant director of the FBI's lab division. "We are excited to collaborate with Qiagen to evaluate the potential of this capability in forensic casework."

Digital PCR is known to be more tolerant to PCR inhibitors, like blood and soil, than standard qPCR and can better detect small quantities of nucleic acids often seen in forensic samples. Accurate DNA quantification using dPCR can also better inform next-generation sequencing workflow decisions to minimize sequencing errors and biases, Qiagen said.

The QiAcuity nanoplate-based digital PCR system, launched in 2020, integrates partitioning, thermal cycling, and imaging into a single workflow. Qiagen said it placed more than 2,000 QiAcuity instruments through the end of 2023.

Qiagen expanded its NGS-based forensic product portfolio last year with the $150 million acquisition of Verogen. The firm now provides sequencing and bioinformatics solutions — including Verogen's Illumina MiSeq FGx sequencer for forensics applications — and offers a genealogy database.

Qiagen's forensic and human ID portfolio includes products for processing sexual assault samples, identifying missing persons, age estimation, tissue identification, anthropology research, and kinship testing.