Forensic DNA: Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) has provided forensic scientists with a valuable tool for determining the source of DNA recovered from damaged, degraded, or very small biological samples. MtDNA is a small circular genome located in the mitochondria, which are located outside of a cell's nucleus. Most human cells contain hundreds of copies of mtDNA genomes, as opposed to two copies of the DNA that is located in the nucleus. This high copy number increases the likelihood of recovering sufficient DNA from compromised DNA samples, and for this reason, mtDNA can play an important role in missing persons investigations, mass disasters, and other forensic investigations involving samples with limited biological material. Additionally, mtDNA is maternally inherited. Therefore, barring a mutation, an individual's mother, siblings, as well as all other maternally-related family members will have identical mtDNA sequences. As a result, forensic comparisons can be made using a reference sample from any maternal relative, even if the unknown and reference sample are separated by many generations.

NIJ has supported research to develop tools to rapidly screen biological evidence to obtain mtDNA information, as well as tools for separating the individual components of mtDNA mixtures and to improve the resolving power of mtDNA information. In addition, a NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) standard reference material (SRM 2392-I) has been characterized to aid in certification of mtDNA sequencing procedures

NIJ-Funded Research

The table below shows all NIJ-funded research projects. Select an award title to see details of the award, including any resulting publications.

Date Modified: December 23, 2013