National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons

In July 2020, the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) National Missing Persons Coordination Centre (NMPCC) launched the National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons.

The aim of this multidisciplinary Program is to apply contemporary forensic techniques to current unidentified human remains (UHR) cases to assist Australian law enforcement to:

  • establish their identity
  • solve long-term missing persons cases, and
  • provide answers to families with missing relatives.

The success of this nationally-coordinated Program will centre on working collaboratively with police, coronial and forensic agencies across Australia to resolve these cold cases, and importantly, families of missing loved ones who are integral to a DNA-led identification effort such as this.

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Family participation

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is seeking expressions of interest from relatives of long-term missing persons (missing for three months or more) who are willing to participate in the National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons (National DNA Program). The National DNA Program gives families the opportunity to provide the investigating police and forensic scientists with vital information, records and samples that may assist to identify their missing loved one.

If you would like to register your interest in being involved in the National DNA Program please the below details to [email protected]:

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Phone Number
  • Name of missing person

If previously reported missing:

  • State or Territory the person was reported missing in
  • Year reported missing

The National DNA Program will contact you in mid 2022 with further information regarding your involvement.

In preparation, the below list outlines the types of information, records and samples of interest to the National DNA Program:

The collection of this information, and these types of records and samples, will be used by the National DNA Program to scientifically link unidentified human remains with long-term missing persons.

  • Reference DNA samples from multiple close biological relatives of the missing person
  • Personal items,  biological samples or stored medical samples of the missing person from which the missing person’s DNA may be recovered (e.g. toothbrushes, razor, stored baby/wisdom teeth, lock of hair, newborn screening card, blood/biopsy sample)
  • Contact details of the dentist(s) and doctor(s) used by the missing person
  • Dental and medical records of the missing person (e.g. treatment records, specialist reports, x-rays, CT scans)
  • Circumstantial, biographical and physical information about the missing person (e.g. date/location last seen, clothing/shoes/jewellery last seen wearing, sex, age, ancestry, eye/hair colour, height, tattoos, birthplace)
  • Photographs of the missing person, including facial portraits and smiling photographs which display the teeth

DNA testing information

Information in regard to DNA testing for the National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons can be found here.

Frequently asked questions

How many unidentified human remains and long-term missing persons are in Australia?

  • It is estimated there are approximately 850 unidentified human remains (UHR) and 2600 long-term missing persons in Australia.
  • These UHR are in the possession of State and Territory Police, mortuaries and forensic laboratories.
  • The initial phase of the Program will involve the State and Territory Police conducting an audit of all active UHR and long-term missing persons cases in each jurisdiction. This will provide an accurate account of the numbers of UHR and long-term missing persons in Australia

What types of forensic testing will be used in the program?

  • The UHR will be examined by a Forensic Anthropologist to develop a biological profile (i.e. age, sex, ancestry) and record trauma to assist with cause/manner of death determinations.
  • If teeth are present, UHR will be examined by a Forensic Odontologist and the dental charts will be compared to any dental charts from long-term missing persons.
  • If there are no dental matches, a bone sample from the UHR will proceed to DNA testing to generate DNA profile/s for comparison to DNA profile/s from the missing persons personal items or medical specimens, or their close biological relatives. If there are no state or national DNA matches, the DNA profiles can be searched internationally on the INTERPOL DNA database.
  • If there are no international DNA matches, the UHR will be considered for specialist forensic testing to aid investigations. This testing can be useful to estimate the year of birth and death, residence history and hair and eye colour, reconstruct the face or locate distant relatives of the unknown individual.

Where will the forensic testing occur?

  • The DNA testing will primarily be conducted at the AFP Forensic Facility in Majura, ACT.
  • The Program will also engage other forensic specialists or laboratories in Australia and/or overseas to conduct specialised forensic testing as required.

Why has this testing never occured before?

  • In some cases, UHR may never have been tested or tested only using the forensic techniques available at the time they were located. In other cases, UHR might have been tested with all available routine forensic techniques but still remain unidentified, so the application of new forensic techniques may provide investigative leads.
  • Forensic techniques are constantly evolving and unresolved unidentified and missing persons cases should be reviewed as they become available to determine if they could aid the investigation. For example, modern DNA techniques have evolved to a point where we are able to successfully extract and profile DNA from old and degraded UHR samples. Previously, this may not have been the case because of a limited quantity and/or quality of DNA in these samples, but due to improvements in the sensitivity of the technology, a DNA profile is now often obtainable.
  • This Program will use both routine and specialist forensic techniques to try to forensically examine and identify all UHR in Australia.
  • By taking a national approach we will ensure that all UHR are subjected to the latest forensic techniques by forensic specialists with the required expertise.

Will this program be able to identify all UHR?

  • The expectation is that not all UHR will be identified as a result of this National DNA Program.
  • DNA testing success will be dependent on the condition of the UHR and whether DNA is able to be recovered from the more challenging samples, and the availability of reference DNA samples from every long-term missing person or suitable biological relatives.
  • In the event routine DNA testing and matching is unsuccessful, other forensic techniques are being considered as part of this Program to provide investigative leads.

What support services are available to family members?

  • The AFP’s National Missing Persons Coordination Centre works closely with support agencies such as the NSW Family and Friends of Missing Persons Unit (FFMPU) who provide counselling and support to family members of missing persons.
  • Family advocacy networks such as Leave a Light On and the Missing Persons Advocacy Network (MPAN) also provide support for family members.
  • State and Territory Police also utilise Family Liaison Officers who help family members navigate the investigation process and subsequent outcomes.

 

Fact sheets

Media

All media enquiries should be directed to the AFP National Media team via email at [email protected] or call on 02 5126 9297.

Media releases regarding the National DNA Program for Unidentified and Missing Persons will appear below as they become available.

Contact

For more information on the Program please contact the NMPCC via email: [email protected] or call 1800 000 634.

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