Crime-busting software developed here and now used in forensics labs around the world has won New Zealand’s most valuable science prize, the 2018 Prime Minister’s Science Prize, worth half a million dollars.
The STRmix team is a group of 16 software developers at ESR, many of whom also have a background in forensic science. They spent two years developing the innovative software package before it began to be used in front-line crime fighting in 2012.
STRmix - pronounced star-mix - allows forensic investigators to quickly determine the unique genetic profiles of up to five individuals from a sample collected at a crime scene. These difficult, mixed samples typically contain trace amounts of DNA from an unknown number of people.
“Back in the old days, when you used to get DNA from large samples, traditionally blood and semen, they would be very easy profiles to interpret,” says Dr Bright. “Typically they would be from only one or two individuals.
“Moving towards these trace amounts of DNA, you can see profiles that have contributors for anything from one to four or five people. So these mixed DNA profiles are more and more complex and that’s what STRmix has been designed for – to help us interpret those complex DNA profiles.”
The STRmix software package has been sold around the world and used in more than 100,000 forensic cases.
“More than 40 laboratories around in the USA are using STRmix,” says Dr Bright, along with forensic laboratories in Canada, the UK and Europe as well as Hong Kong and China. The software package is also the Australasian standard and is used in all of New Zealand’s and Australia’s forensic labs.
Dr Jo-Anne Bright says that the STRmix team provides training and support to users as well as continually developing and refining the software, which is upgraded annually.
The STRmix team intends to spend its half-million dollar prize on further developing the software to include new applications.