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AFMES, helping bring loved ones home one FRS at a time

Personnel from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System Department of Defense DNA Registry Family Reference Sample-Laboratory Automation group pose for a photo, at AFMES on Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. The FRS-LA group’s primary mission is to process family reference samples for the past accounting community as well as current day operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashlin Federick) Personnel from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System Department of Defense DNA Registry Family Reference Sample-Laboratory Automation group pose for a photo, at AFMES on Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. The FRS-LA group’s primary mission is to process family reference samples for the past accounting community as well as current day operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashlin Federick)

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DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Processing of Family Reference Samples have previously been performed by the sections of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System Department of Defense DNA Registry but has been moved to a section specifically devoted to that mission. 

In October 2016, the Family Reference Sample-Laboratory Automation group was established with the primary mission of processing FRSs for the past accounting community, as well as current day operations and internal reference samples needed. 

“We are proud to join the past accounting mission and be able to contribute our experience and knowledge of reference processing to help advance the road to 200 identifications per year,” said Julie Demarest, AFMES DoD DNA Registry FRS-LA group technical leader.

A FRS is used in identifying service members lost in previous theaters through DNA compared to familial references. Because past conflict DNA is not on file like modern day conflict the DNA identification has to be made in comparison of a family member. 

The type of swab previously used for FRS collections was called the Bode buccal swab, which is a flat plastic collector with a filter paper collection tip. They have recently moved to the Filtered Air Breathable swab. 

New swab collector kit used by the Family Reference Sample-Laboratory Automation group to collect familial DNA to help identify remains of service members.New swab collector kit used by the Family Reference Sample-Laboratory Automation group to collect familial DNA to help identify remains of service members.

The new swab was selected because it is more amenable to the different types of testing FRS-LA is able to perform at this point. Historically mitochondrial DNA was the only way to compare DNA to identify loved ones, but with advances in the testing able to be performed and the information produced by the Past Accounting section this is no longer the case. 

Demarest said they are able to process for Autosomal Short Tandem Repeat (auSTR) and Y chromosomal STR (Y-STR), as well as mtDNA, and the original swab did not always work as well with those types of tests. 

“It is like a cotton swab so it is cotton on the end of a stick rather than the filter paper on the Bode collector,” said Demarest. “The fact that this is soft and three-dimensional makes doing the collection easier. When people are doing a self-collect we tend to get better results with this type of collection. It is easier, more effective as well as cost effective.” 

New collection form used by the Family Reference Sample-Laboratory Automation group to collect familial DNA to help identify remains of service members.New collection form used by the Family Reference Sample-Laboratory Automation group to collect familial DNA to help identify remains of service members.

Demarest said historically identification has been done using mitochondrial DNA but now they have the ability to develop STRs on some profile types as well which has expanded the type of family collect that can be used for comparison. 

“It used to be that you had to be a maternal relative but now you can be a child or paternal relative and we can still use your DNA potentially for the comparison that we are making for identification,” said Demarest. 

Not only is there a new type of swab collector but there is also a new collection form. 

All consents and requests are on one form now. It allows family members to choose to let the DoD DNA Registry use their DNA for training, research or validation in addition to identifying their loved one. They can also request a copy of their FRS report using the new form. Both of these options default to affirmative if the family member fails to check yes or no. Family members must also remember to sign off on their own collection, as that signature is the necessary consent to process their sample that the lab requires.

Even though there is a new swab collector anyone who has given a FRS such as a blood sample or Bode buccal swab does not need to resubmit. The samples collected in the past as well as the profiles generated are retained indefinitely so that future comparisons can be made. 

The FRS-LA group accepts and processes all family references regardless of the recovery status of their loved one because no one knows what will happen in the future. The DoD DNA Registry works with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to provide the fullest possible accounting for missing personnel to their families and the nation. 

“Even though my team is new to this mission we are a very experienced group with high throughput automated processing and we are very excited to join this new mission,” said Demarest.

Disclaimer: Re-published content may have been edited for length and clarity. Read original post.

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