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Sifting Through DNA

Vietnam is embarking on a program to identify its war dead using DNA-based tools, Nature News reports.

While most of the US dead have been identified and repatriated, the remains of half a million or more Vietnamese soldiers and civilians still need to be identified. The Vietnamese government is investing $25 million in the project, partnering with the German company Bioglobe for training and consulting, and upgrading three existing DNA-testing centers, Nature News adds.

The hot and humid environment where the bones have lain, though, poses a challenge, as there has likely been extensive DNA degradation, it notes, and contamination from soil microbes will also have to be dealt with. In addition, as many of the soldiers died young and without children and their parent may have died as well, DNA from uncovered remains may have to be compared to samples from more distant relatives.

Six Vietnamese scientists are heading to Germany next month for a three-month training program at Bioglobe, Nature News says, and they will also spend time at the International Commission on Missing Persons forensic laboratory to learn other parts of identification.

Truong Nam Hai, the head of the Institute of Biotechnology at the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, tells Nature News that after the government DNA-testing centers have been upgraded, they should be able to identify between 8,000 people and 10,000 people a year.