Monday, 1 October 2012

New DNA Technique Could Provide Hope of Identifying Remains of More 9/11 Victims

For the 1,120 families of 9/11 victims whose remains have yet to be identified, there's a new glimmer of hope for closure.

City forensic scientists plan to soon add another tool to their laboratory -- a cutting-edge technique that will allow the city Medical Examiner's Office to use DNA taken from bone fragments to determine a person's eye and skin color.

"It'll give us some physical descriptions of some individuals whose remains were recovered," said Mark Desire, assistant director of the medical examiner's Department of Forensic Biology. "We can narrow down the search."

As it stands now, an unidentified DNA sample without a match can only tell scientists whether the deceased was a man or a woman.

With 8,655 partial remains from the World Trade Center still unidentified, that isn't very useful.

But by determining if a DNA sample belongs to someone with light or dark skin or brown or blue eyes, scientists could get several steps closer to linking those remains to actual victims. Scientists believe that using such new data, coupled with yet-to-be-made advancements -- DNA markers for hair color, for example -- could eventually lead to positive identifications.

John Cartier, who lost his brother James on 9/11, hopes one day he will be able to claim James' remains.

"This is a step in the right direction," Cartier said. "I see it as them continuing to find ways to help."

The new technique has been unfolding for more than three years in the lab of Elisa Wurmbach, a scientist with the ME's Department of Forensic Biology. She studied ways to identify markers in DNA samples by conducting tests on more than 700 volunteers.

Wurmbach was able to determine eye color within a 3 percent margin of error and skin color within a 1 percent margin.

Those margins are "very low," she said.

Now she's working on perfecting a testing method in which identifying the DNA markers won't fail.

Before the city can use the technique, its scientists must validate it.

"It has to go through very rigorous evaluations," said Zoran Budimlija, a city researcher. "It's not going to be used in the WTC case -- not yet."

The new technique could be applied broadly, and even be used to solve some of the 60,000 missing persons cases that crop up in the U.S. every year.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Only 1,633 of the 2,753 victims have been identified. As DNA testing is exhausted, the number of new identifications has dwindled in the last six years. Only one new identification has been made so far this year.

The continuing effort to ID victims has cost more than $50 million. The examiner's forensics lab, which is the largest government lab of its kind in the nation, receives funding from the city, state and federal governments.

Matching up

21,817 Remains recovered

13,162 Remains matched to the dead

2,753 Victims killed at Ground Zero

1,633 Number of those victims identified from remains

Monday 1 October 2012

continue reading

Kathmandu, without DNA testing, victims of plane crash unrecognizable

Kathmandu - The Nepalese government refuses to hand over the bodies of the 19 victims of the air disaster that occurred on September 28. According to police, the bodies are unrecognizable and a DNA test is needed to identify them. Unfortunately, Nepal does not have the technology to carry out the test and has asked India and other countries to use their equipment. To date, the estimated time for recognition is over a month. The news has sparked the ire of victims' families, mostly foreign who are not willing to wait for such a long period.

Wosti Harihar, head of the forensic department of the Tribhuwan University Hospital in Kathmandu, states that "the autopsies on the bodies have already been completed, but it is impossible to determine the identity without DNA testing." The doctor adds that the only option is to seek the assistance of foreign hospitals. "The bodies - he explains - are in terrible condition and if India agrees to help take us it will take more than a month to analyze all of the remains." Meanwhile, local media is railing against the authorities accused of failing to cooperate with the research institute, to avoid taking responsibility. Today Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, confessed that he knew nothing about the case. Bal Krishna Ghimire, spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, on the other hand silenced the criticism, saying that for the moment there are no updates.

The plane, owned by Sita Air, crashed minutes after taking off from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. According to the reconstruction, the aircraft collided with a large bird - perhaps a hawk - which damaged one of the engines triggering a fire on board. The pilot had attempted to land near the river Manahara, but without success. 19 people died in the disaster, seven Britons, five Chinese and seven Nepalese, including three crew. United Kingdom authorities have sent a team of experts on site to speed up the investigation.

Airplanes and helicopters are the main means of transport for the people of Nepal. Nepal has a limited network of roads and many communities in the mountains and hills are accessible only on foot or by air. The explosion of trekking tourism across the Himalayas has increased the risk of aircraft accidents. In a few years the travel agencies that offer tours on to the rooftop of the world have more than doubled. In order to collect more money, the authorities have lowered safety standards allowing flights during the monsoon season, characterized by fog and heavy rains. In December 2010, a plane carrying three crew members, 22 people in all, crashed into a mountain shortly after taking off from a small airstrip 140 kilometers east of Kathmandu. The passengers were mostly Bhutanese citizens on a pilgrimage who had chartered a plane to visit a Buddhist holy site in the area.

Monday 1 October 2012,-without-DNA-testing,-victims-of-plane-crash-unrecognizable-25966.html

continue reading

Pipeline fire in southeast Nigeria kills 20

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — A government spokesman says 20 people in southeast Nigeria died when a broken gasoline pipeline caught fire, burning alive those gathering the fuel.

The fire happened in a remote village in Abia state, near Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta. Abia state government spokesman Ugochukwu Emezue said Monday that the fire happened Sept. 23, but it took days for the information to reach officials.

Pipeline ruptures remain common in Nigeria, an oil-rich nation where militants and criminals routinely tap into lines to steal crude oil and refined gasoline. Fires can easily and accidentlally be sparked by those attempting to gather the fuel.

In September, Nigeria's state-run oil company said suspected thieves shot dead three of its workers in southeast Ogun state after rupturing a gasoline pipeline to steal fuel.

Monday 1 October 2012

continue reading