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New DNA Technology Is Helping Ohio Identify Missing Persons

Courtesy of Battelle
Through a partnership with Battelle, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation now has the ability to test mitrochondrial DNA using massively parallel sequencing. This technology makes it possible to identify skeletal remains.

Ohio has its first success in identifying skeletal remains using a technology not previously available to the state's crime labs.

Twenty-two-year-old Dewayne Lewis went missing from his Toledo home in 2013. This spring, hunters discovered human bones. In November, detectives at the Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) were able to identify those remains as Lewis thanks to a partnership with the global research and development organization Battelle.

Battelle picked out the instrumentation and processes that would work best for BCI to take mitochondrial DNA and test it using massively parallel sequencing. Mitochondrial DNA lives in the energy pockets of the cells and is passed down on the mother's side. It's present in tens of thousands of copies of every cell in the body, and because there are so many, scientists are able to generate a profile even when they don't have much to work with, as was the case of Dewayne Lewis.

"We now may be able to match, identify them with a missing person report," Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost told WVXU. "That opens up a whole new investigating avenue."

The state used to send off skeletal remains to the University of Texas for testing. But that took time and money. In addition, the university says it will stop any outside testing in January 2021 due to lack of funding.

Battelle Biologist Lindsay Catlin says massively parallel sequencing, or MPS, technology allows scientists to gather more information especially in those instances where they have degraded samples. She compares the technology to looking in a book.

"So you can see that there's the words, but if you have the word pair in different spots you don't know which way it's spelled," she says. "With MPS you can distinguish it."

Credit Ohio Attorney General's Office
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

Attorney General Yost praises Catlin and others. "If you've got a murder case that you can close it's a pretty short distance between a superhero in a cape and the scientist behind a bench that has taken a killer off the street."

The death of Dewayne Lewis is listed as a homicide. The Lucas County Sheriff's Office hasn't released the names of any suspects.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.