NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – DNA Link, a Korean provider of microarrays for forensic analysis, has partnered with researchers at Seoul National University to identify the victims of a massacre that took place more than 60 years ago.
Tens of thousands of people perished in the Jeju Uprising, a series of events that took place between April 3, 1948, and the second half of 1949 on the island of Jeju. A Communist-supported insurrection against the American-backed government was put down by Korean military and paramilitary forces, with total casualties estimated between 19,000 and 30,000.
Between 2006 and 2011, remains belonging to about 400 individuals who died during the uprising were collected from the island and sent to Seoul National University's Forensics Lab for identification.
However, given the degraded nature of the samples, the researchers at Seoul National University opted to use a SNP microarray designed by DNA Link, rather than conventional approaches, for part of the effort.
"Short tandem repeat markers have been the conventional method for human identification in forensics," Yoon Soo Kim, an R&D team researcher at the Seoul-based company, told BioArray News.
"However, STR was not a suitable choice in the case of Jeju Uprising because the remains were buried in their natural state for over 60 years, which caused a high degradation of the DNA," said Kim. "So the STR results provided only limited information, usually no more than a second degree of relationship, without a clear confirmation on the genetic relationship."
Founded in 2000, DNA Link has developed a 169-SNP, Affymetrix-manufactured resequencing array for the identification of such samples. Given the higher SNP content and the sensitivity of the technology, the company has shown that its platform has the ability to identify broader familial relationships, increasing the possibility of matching remains with families.
The company last month discussed its approach in a paper in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics. Among its touted advantages are the abilities to genotype highly degraded DNA; to make an identification from small amount of DNA; to identify beyond second degree of kinship like siblings and aunts and uncles; to confirm the relationship between remains and their families; and to reduce the time, effort, and cost in analyzing DNA, Kim said.
Although more than six decades have elapsed since the Jeju Uprising, an organization called the Jeju April 3 Peace Foundation has worked to track families of those who died, including those whose remains were never found.
"It is true that some close relatives have also deceased due to the 60 year time lapse, but some are actually alive, especially their children, along with siblings and nephews and nieces, to offer their DNA for the matching process," he said.
Through its collaboration with Seoul National University, DNA Link's array has been used to successfully match the remains of 15 individuals with families tracked through the Jeju April 3 Peace Foundation. According to Kim, the firm's partners at Seoul National University requested AccuID analysis on 21 samples for which STR analysis showed only partial matches. Of the remaining samples four were genotyped but matched no families, and two were too degraded to be genotyped.
"The short version of the story is that we have identified familial relationships using AccuID beyond a second degree of kinship from remains that were buried for more than 60 years," said Kim.
While DNA Link is hoping that its success in identifying the Jeju Uprising results will lead to the further use of its platform in that project, the company is also looking to raise its international profile based on its experience in Korea.
"We are still in the process of reaching international markets," said Kim. "We have received some requests on chip service from Iraq and other Middle Eastern and North African areas," he said. "We are trying to build as many solid references as we can before properly entering the international markets, and we believe our recent paper in Forensic Science International: Genetics can be a part of that," he added.
To reach customers in those markets, DNA Link is working with its partner Affymetrix. The two firms have a Powered by Affymetrix agreement, which "goes beyond mere technology adoption, and in fact works on a relationship-based collaboration," Kim said.
Under the terms of the agreement, Affymetrix provides support to DNA Link as a manufacturer and co-marketer, including the introduction of the firm to some of its initial contacts in the Middle East. "It is an ongoing partnership that supports DNA Link at every step of our success," said Kim. Other firms with similar Powered by Affymetrix agreements include Almac Diagnostics, SkylineDx, and TessArae.
As DNA Link looks into opportunities abroad, it is also close to deploying a second version of its AccuID chip next month. In addition to containing personal identification markers and Y markers for sex determination, the newer version will include more personal identification markers and phenotype markers, such as SNPs for hair and eye color.
The addition of new content should expand the utility of AccuID going forward, Kim maintained.
"When the number of markers are added in the future, we expect AccuID to identify even fourth degree of kinship whereas the existing techniques are limited to identifying immediate families like parent-child relationship and some siblings," he said.