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DNA HOTLINE - FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Answered by Shiya Ribowski, Deputy Director of Investigations, Office of the Medical Examiner. DNA HOTLINE (212) 447-7884.

I submitted DNA samples several months ago. When I called the DNA hotline they did not have the samples. What happened to them?

I provided a DNA sample and was asked to provide a second sample because the first one did not pass testing analysis. Why did this happen?

When I called the hotline they told me that the samples I gave did not contain DNA.

Why didn't anyone call me to let me know?

I submitted a personal item for DNA sampling. Will it be returned to me?

Do you take DNA samples from all remains found at the WTC?

What are the criteria for confirming the identity of a victim?

On average, how long does it take to make a positive identification?

How precise are the methods used for DNA analysis?

Do the chances of making a positive identification decrease over time?

How long will the M.E.'s office continue to work on identifying remains?

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I submitted DNA samples several months ago. When I called the DNA hotline they did not have the samples. What happened to them?
Answer: An enormous amount of samples were submitted to the Police Department and many other agencies since September 11, 2001. Some of the samples examined had no extractable DNA. These samples were never listed.

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I provided a DNA sample and was asked to provide a second sample because the first one did not pass testing analysis. Why did this happen?
Answer: Not every DNA sample works ever time. In a major study by the British on thousands of cheek swaps, cheek swabs work 85-95 % of the time. The cheek swab may not work because the inside of the cheek was not rubbed properly (only a small part of the swab was used for rubbing), there may be too little saliva, the cheek may be coated with food or medication such as antacid, the swab was improperly dried after sampling, or the swab touched other swabs or dirty hands when drying.

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When I called the hotline they told me that the samples I gave did not contain DNA. Why didn't anyone call me to let me know?
Answer: The process of DNA extraction can take weeks and at times even months. Some samples required more than one attempt at extraction. It is only over the last few weeks that our office has been able to gather data allowing us to tell most families whether or not we require more DNA. Time was also required to create the database and hotline phone bank we are using to book appointments with families.

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I submitted a personal item for DNA sampling. Will it be returned to me?
Answer: Every attempt will be made to return personal items after testing if the family so desires. Please bear in mind that some items may be damaged or even consumed by testing, such as an article of clothing that must be cut.

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Do you take DNA samples from all remains found at the WTC?
Answer: Yes. All recovered remains are sampled for DNA.

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What are the criteria for confirming the identity of a victim?
A victim may be identified by conventional means such as photo I.D., dental x-rays, chest x-rays, fingerprints, tattoos/body marks or personal effects. If conventional identification fails, a victim may be identified by DNA. The criteria for identification is having a confirmed ante-mortem sample (such as a fingerprint on file or dental x-ray from past dental visit) that can be compared to post-mortem samples from the victim. When possible, we use two or more modalities to confirm an identification.

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On average, how long does it take to make a positive identification?
Positive identifications can only be made if a sample from the victim was recovered (post-mortem sample) and there is a known ante-mortem sample (such as a fingerprint on file or dental x-ray from past dental visit). In the case of DNA samples the required tests may take several weeks to produce results. In the case of non-DNA samples (fingerprint to fingerprint record) the identification can be completed quickly.

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How precise are the methods used for DNA analysis?
The DNA analysis methods are extremely precise. DNA can be isolated from any sample that can be seen by the naked eye.

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Do the chances of making a positive identification decrease over time?
Initially the passage of time will make it more difficult to identify a lost loved one because any tissue and blood will decompose over time. However, DNA can still be isolated from bone and the passage of time will have little impact on the condition of bone.

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How long will the M.E.'s office continue to work on identifying remains?
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) is committed to continuing this effort until all possible methods of identification have been exhausted. It is safe to say we will continue this effort for at least one year.

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