Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 March 2018

Forensic experts now able to identify Emirati criminals using DNA markers

Researchers from Khalifa University and Abu Dhabi Police are among a team who have found STR markers that identify Emirati ethnicity, information that can be used at crime scenes in the future.

Dr Habiba Alsafar, right, works with a researcher at the Khalifa University Centre for Biotechnology. Delores Johnson / The National
Dr Habiba Alsafar, right, works with a researcher at the Khalifa University Centre for Biotechnology. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // DNA markers exclusive to Emiratis have been identified by Khalifa University and Abu Dhabi Police.

The discovery will help the authorities to better determine the ethnic backgrounds of victims and perpetrators of crimes.

Short tandem repeat (STR) markers are used across the world to identify the ethnicity of people, but no research on STR markers that identify Emiratis had been done.

The announcement marks a turning point in the UAE’s genetic research and crime investigation capability. It means that investigators will be able to use traces of DNA left at crime scenes to identify whether those involved were Emirati.

“Analysing STR markers has become the preferred method among forensic scientists because of databases around the world, and the availability of STR DNA analysis kits,” said Dr Habiba Alsafar, director of the Khalifa University Centre for Biotechnology. She is a co-supervisor of the landmark study.

“There are at least 21 STR markers that have been studied extensively on six continents. But there was very limited information on STR markers unique to Emiratis before this study.”

The research was conducted in partnership with the University of Western Australia, the University of Central Lancashire and the Abu Dhabi Forensic Laboratory.

“Those 21 STR DNA markers have been used successfully to identify individuals for paternity testing and for analysing evidence from crime scenes in the UAE,” said Osamah Alh­moudi, a captain at the laboratory. “And we can now add DNA traits we have identified that are unique to the local population to our database.”

The findings of the research have been published in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics for use by law enforcement agencies.

Prof Tod Laursen, president of Khalifa University, said: “We aim to not only do research of scientific importance but to make sure our research strategy leads to findings that are societally relevant.

“Dr Habiba and her team have expended huge time and effort in developing an international network of collaborators for the biotechnology centre and it is really gratifying to see the fruits of these efforts emerging now.”