Low Copy Number DNA

As detailed elsewhere on this website, the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) has divulged few details about the DNA procures it used to complete a claimed 18,000 body identifications.  We know that they claim to have invented a simple and cheap procure for recovering DNA from human bones with the aid of a simple and inexpensive kit, but that’s about it.

Very few bodies were recovered by the ICMP before the early 2000s,  some six years after the alleged massacre of up to 8,000 people when Srebrenica fell to the Bosnian Serbs in July 1995.  This was because early mass grave excavations found far fewer bodies than expected.  It was only when the ICTY devised a new theory of the events that had taken place based on the assumption that the Bosnian Serbs had undertaken a massive cover-up exercise to exhume, move and rebury some 500 tons of human remains that new mass graves were identified and large-scale body finds were claimed.

Even if there was any truth in this incredible theory, the human remains recovered would have been extensively comingled, with associated contamination, and would have spent upwards of 5 years in the ground decomposing.  In addition, there are many photographs of ICMP excavations showing complete neglect for basic scene-of-crime procedures such as the wearing of masks and gloves.

All these considerations would be even more important if, as seems very likely,  the ICMP used low copy number DNA to make some or all of their identifications.  Contamination is a huge problem in all areas of DNA work, but a much greater issue when low copy number DNA is involved.

This BBC News report from 2008 provides a good explanation.