This project aims to develop new methods to incorporate into existing DNA identification strategies that allow improved resolution of biogeographic ancestry (herein ‘ancestry’) and lineage information obtained from recovered remains. The new methods combine approaches typically applied to the extraction of Ancient DNA (aDNA) coupled with Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies to probe a wide range of genetic changes in nuclear, mitochondrial and Y chromosomal DNA to improve the reliability and accuracy of identification.
These methods aim to improve the accessibility of ancestry and genetic lineage information and analysis will focus on determining the ancestry and externally visible characteristics (e.g. hair, eye, and skin colour) of the recovered remains. This information may aid Defence to narrow the shortlist of putative unaccounted service members and significantly reduce investigation and identification time.
The DNA identification strategy will be delivered through the following objectives:
- A NGS DNA test for accurate prediction of ancestry of WWII remains recovered from the Asia-Pacific
This involves identification of key ancestry-informative genetic markers that differentiate between relevant ancestral populations. These markers are being selected using published panels and publicly available datasets from relevant populations and the customised tests will be trialled using the genetic data extracted from six to eight unidentified WWII remains recovered from Papua New Guinea selected for this study.
- A NGS DNA test to infer externally visible characteristics including hair, eye, and skin colour from human remains
Similar to the above, advances in genetic understanding have identified markers for hair, eye, and skin colour that can be used as a predictive tool to aid UWC-A personnel in the identification of unaccounted service members. Appropriate tests are being developed in this project using available data. Once developed, the tests will be applied to the genetic data extracted from the recovered remains.
- Advanced mitochondrial DNA and Y-DNA profiling methods to improve identification success
Previous studies at QUT determined that current mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y chromosomal DNA (Y-DNA) markers tests have limited discrimination power as approximately 32% of Australians share ‘common’ genetic material in the regions analysed. Therefore, we are developing testing methods that employ NGS to obtain Y chromosome and complete mitochondrial genetic data to provide higher level resolution and improve discrimination power to differentiate individuals within the Australian population.
- Develop a Family Reference DNA Database consisting of ~2,000 DNA samples from families of missing service members from historical conflicts for comparison studies for identification of genetic relatives of the recovered remains in this project and as a resource for future UWC-A cases
For the success of this pilot project, a Family Reference DNA Database is being developed to compare genetic material from the recovered remains and identify genetic relatives. Establishing family trees of ~500 missing service members is the first step to identify appropriate family members that are then contacted for potential inclusion in the database. For willing participants, they will be mailed DNA collection kits and added to the database of family DNA donors. This database will have great utility beyond the scope of the initial project that aims to identify only a small number of remains. The reference database complements previous and ongoing genealogical and DNA research undertaken by UWC-A that will continue to grow as required to support the identification of remains yet to be recovered.