Separating the male and female components of sexual assault evidence using sound waves could vastly cut the time it takes to identify suspects, researchers in the US and Sweden report.This advance in DNA processing has a double benefit if it can used in all crime labs. The first benefit is the speed and that is important because of how many jurisdictions still have unacceptable backlogs of unprocessed rape kits. The second benefit is that the more complex processes allow more opportunities for important DNA evidence to be lost or degraded.
Typically, crime labs take up to twelve hours to isolate sperm cells from a sexual assault sample. This is because female skin cells greatly outnumber sperm cells, so careful handling and multiple cycles of centrifuging and washing are required.
This new method promises to greatly simplify the process, and takes only fourteen minutes to extract sperm cells from the mixture. It also leaves a very clean sample that can immediately be used for DNA analysis.
From the rest of the story on this advance the developers are working to make the cost of testing each sample as low as possible. With government budgets being cut in many jurisdictions cost may make the difference in how long rapists get away with their crimes and how many new victims are harmed.
I applaud the University of Virginia's James Landers and West Virginia University's Max Houck and everyone else who is working on this project. These types of advances can prevent future crimes by correctly identifying unknown attackers and by confirming details of rape victims' testimony.
I can't tell from this story whether this is a refinement of the work of University of Virginia student Jessica Voorhees Norris which I blogged about last April, but from reading the original news release from UV I believe they may be related.
When I contact my state and federal legislators I will definitely highlight the need to fund this type of research and to fund the application of best practices.