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Donate your DNA to forensic science

22 February 2016

Postdoctoral Research Associate Mark Barash is analysing thousands of specific ‘bits’ of DNA that are responsible for the differences in the way we look, for example the size and shape of the nose, eyes, ears, eye lids, ear lobes, or our pigmentationDo you want to help scientists find why we look as we are? In other words: what are the genes responsible for the shape and size of our eyes, nose and ears?

Dr Mark Barash, a postdoctoral researcher from UTS: Science’s Centre for Forensic Science, is conducting exciting research into DNA profiling to address these questions.

The research aims to help develop more accurate methods of facial reconstruction, used for identifying victims of natural disasters and solving cold cases.

In criminal cases where a DNA profile can be found, forensic officers are often able to help solve the case by finding a matching suspect’s profile. But when the suspect is not available or there is no match found in the DNA database search, the DNA evidence cannot be used to solve the crime.

But if there was a way of getting more information from the DNA molecule, such as the shape and size of the nose, eyes, ears, eye lids and pigmentation of the person it came from, a facial reconstruction of the person could be created. And that information could prove to be invaluable.

Currently, our knowledge of the genetics behind normal craniofacial morphology is very limited. We don’t know what are the genetic variants responsible for “tweaking” a specific facial feature (e.g. straight vs concave nose) during the embryonic development.

Postdoctoral Research Associate Mark Barash is analysing thousands of specific ‘bits’ of DNA that are responsible for the differences in the way we look, for example the size and shape of the nose, eyes, ears, eye lids, ear lobes, or our pigmentationBy analysing thousands of specific ‘bits’ of DNA responsible for the differences in the way we look, Dr Barash hopes to enable the development of a real image from a molecular identikit that could help to identify offenders and assist with in unidentified skeletal remains.

However, in order to get to this stage, more research and more samples are needed for analysis, and that’s where donors like you come in.

Dr Barash needs to collect another 1000 DNA samples to further the next stage of his research (about 600 samples have already been collected).

Donate your DNA to science

What is involved?
Donating a sample of your DNA involves a saliva swab and a facial image scan. This is a rapid, safe and non-invasive procedure that takes about 15 minutes.

How will my DNA be used?
Each DNA sample remains completely anonymous and is kept at UTS Science only for five years, with access strictly limited to one researcher.

Are the samples given to external parties, like the police?
Absolutely not! The samples are for research purposes only and are not given to any external parties.

What do I get for donating?
As well as the unique opportunity to donate to science while you’re still here, each donor will get a voucher worth $4 plus a free coffee to the Cornerstone Café in the UTS Science Building.

How do I donate?
Book a 15 minute appointment (opens an external site) with Dr Barash.

Are there particular people that need sampling?
Anyone is welcomed to donate given you are at least 18 years old but people with Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and/or African heritages are strongly encouraged to donate.

I’m interested, but I’m still not sure. Can I talk to someone?
Of course! If you have more questions you can email Mark Barash. We also encourage interested donors to read Dr Barash's article about investigative genetics and watch ABC NANO's Can DNA Reveal a Killer's Face? video (opens an external site).