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Portable, rapid DNA analysis tech developed

Could allow mobile database checks by plods

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Mobile fingerprint-checking equipment is already controversial before it has even rolled out widely. An announcement today may presage the next such row, as developers say they will soon roll out a "compact" machine based on "a small, single chip" which will massively reduce the amount of time taken to check a DNA sample.

The RapID™ system was unveiled today at a biometrics conference in Florida by ZyGEM Corp and its partner, US aerospace globocorp Lockheed, nowadays seeking to diverge into homeland-security areas.

"Our goal with the RapID sample-to-answer DNA analysis device is to transform today's DNA identification process from one that takes a great deal of training, sophisticated equipment and days or weeks to complete, into an affordable, on-site process that takes less than an hour," said Lockheed biometrics bigwig John Mears.

According to a statement released today by the two companies:

RapID™ leverages the latest in microfluidic research and development to accelerate the DNA identification process--essentially building a laboratory on a small, single chip that reduces the processing steps and time needed for analysis. The RapID™ platform is currently in prototype at ZyGEM's Charlottesville, Va., MicroLab laboratories, with a Beta version expected to be released for testing in select laboratories early next year.

Lockheed are targeting the RapID™ at tackling the US Justice Department's backlog of DNA requests (which is sufficiently bad that there is a Forensic DNA Backlog Reduction Program). However the technology might also be of interest in the UK, with its hugely comprehensive and hotly disputed police DNA database.

Privacy advocates in Blighty have previously expressed strong concern over police trials in which portable, networked fingerprint-check machines have permitted coppers to check someone's prints against the files on the street. At present this can normally only be done at a station, meaning that plods must arrest anyone unwilling to give their prints in order to conduct a check.

It seems likely that RapID™, combined with suitable networking tech, could soon offer the option for similar mobile DNA checking, with an accompanying heated civil-liberties debate. ®

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