Bosnia-based lab to help identify Katrina victims

A Bosnian-based laboratory originally set up to identify people missing from wars in the former Yugoslavia is helping to identify victims of Hurricane Katrina, lab officials said Thursday. The International Commission on Missing Persons will obtain DNA profiles by testing an estimated 260 to 350 bone samples under an agreement with State of Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, ICMP spokeswoman Doune Porter told The Associated Press. The August hurricane swept across the southeastern United States, severely damaging the New Orleans area and leaving more than 1,300 people confirmed dead. ICMP, established in 1996, runs one of the most sophisticated DNA laboratories in the world. It developed its system of mass-scale DNA testing to assist in the identification of bodies from the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. It helped in the identification of victims of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York and of last year's Asian tsunami. The agency recently began helping Iraqi authorities identify the war dead. Obtaining DNA profiles from hard tissue samples such as bones and teeth is technically much more challenging than from sources such as blood and saliva. During its more than five years of working with skeletal remains found in mass graves across the former Yugoslavia, ICMP has developed specialized methods. When the State of Louisiana sent test bone samples from Katrina victims to DNA laboratories in November, ICMP achieved a 100 per cent success rate in obtaining DNA profiles from them, Porter said.

She said that ICMP Chairman James Kimsey, speaking from Washington, D.C., pointed out that it was easier to extract DNA from the bones of victims of a relatively recent disaster than from bones that had been buried in mass graves for more than a decade. Unlike with the tsunami and with cases from the former Yugoslavia, ICMP will not match the bone DNA to family members of the missing. This will be done by Louisiana authorities, reports the AP. N.U.

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