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Korean Firm DNA Link Positions New AccuID Forensics Chip as Alternative to STRs, Sequencing

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As next-generation genomic tools are increasingly being considered for use in forensics, one Korean company is looking to carve out a niche for itself.

Seoul-based DNA Link recently introduced AccuID, an Affymetrix-manufactured resequencing array for genotyping that is available as a service and a kit.

DNA Link claims it has generated unpublished data demonstrating that the current version of AccuID can determine the identities of missing persons and human remains better than commercial microsatellite genotyping products.

In addition, the firm is at work on a new version of AccuID that will contain content suitable for other kinds of forensics applications, such as police investigative work, CEO Jong-Eun Lee told BioArray News.

"We are putting [ancestry informative markers] for population identification and phenotype markers like eye color, skin color, and blood types" on the array, Lee said.

He said that the new version, scheduled to launch in the first half of 2014, "should draw interest from police cases as well as missing person cases."

DNA Link's main focus to date in forensics has been determining the identity of human remains. In February, the company announced that it has been using the 169-SNP array to identify remains from the Korean War (BAN 2/12/2013).

Separately in February, DNA Link and Affymetrix announced an agreement that allows DNA Link to commercialize forensic tests for human remains identification and other diagnostic assays.

According to Jean Marc Terral, DNA Link's vice president of business development, the company sees AccuID as more sensitive than PCR-based microsatellite genotyping, also referred to as short-tandem repeats, or STRs, the current standard approach in forensics laboratories.

"Practically SNPs can and most certainly will replace STR in the not too distant future, once costs go down," Terral told BioArray News.

He provided an internally produced report that showed that DNA Link was able to genotype 64 markers in a degraded bone sample collected from Jeju Island, the site of a 1948 Communist uprising in which between 16,000 and 60,000 people died.

Meantime, STR kits from Life Technologies' Applied Biosystems business typed zero markers. Terral said that a paper discussing the study should be published later this year.

At the same time, Terral acknowledged that microarrays are still more expensive than STR analysis, and thus will not likely immediately compete with that technology for criminal forensic analysis "even though you gain a better discrimination power or [fewer] false positives."

He said that the next version of AccuID might help DNA Link attract more forensics labs involved in law enforcement cases because it will contain SNPs for various physical traits used for identification.

Comparing technologies

While DNA Link targets forensics labs with its AccuID chips, a number of labs are developing what could become competitive offerings using next-generation sequencing technologies.

As In Sequence reported in June, a research group from the University of North Texas Health Science Center has been evaluating Life Technologies' Ion AmpliSeq Human Identification SNP panel for use in forensics, comparing it to a SNP panel run on the Illumina Genome Analyzer. Another team at Western Carolina University is doing mitochondrial sequencing on Illumina's MiSeq to detect rare variants below 1 percent frequency (BAN 6/25/2013).

As a service provider, DNA Link has the ability to develop forensics panels for use on sequencing platforms. According to its website, it offers sequencing on Illumina, Roche, and Pacific Biosciences instruments.

But the company believes that microarrays have been vetted to a greater extent and are easier to use than sequencing, according to Terral.

"Microarrays have been around longer than NGS, [and] are easy to standardize and validate, while the Affymetrix resequencing array is as accurate as Sanger chemistry sequencing," Terral said.

"Assuming a scientific agreement that SNPs are more informative compared to STRs … comparing NGS to the Affymetrix resequencing array amounts to comparing technologies on reliability, ease of use, throughput, and automation," he added.

Terral noted that the current turnaround time for AccuID is about 48 hours versus "several days" using different sequencing platforms.

He also noted that Affymetrix's global installed base of GCS 3000Dx v.2 instruments was another factor in DNA Link's decision to make the test available as a GeneChip, meaning that labs that already own the vendor's equipment would not need to make additional capital investments to run AccuID.

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