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Company uses DNA as blueprint to create lifelike sketches of suspects

Ellen Greytak, Director of Bioinformatics, explains how Parabon Nanolabs uses DNA as blueprint to create lifelike sketches of suspects. (ABC7)

A process that workers at Parabon Nanolabs have been developing for five years is helping law enforcement.

“We’re looking at DNA like it’s a blueprint for the person,” said Director of Bioinformatics, Ellen Greytak. “It contains all of the information that led to that person’s appearance.”

Greytak says they’re now looking at forensic DNA differently.

“The traditional forensic DNA analysis—you’re looking at a sample from a crime scene and comparing it to either a database or a suspect you’ve already identified. If you don’t get any matches, it couldn’t tell you anything,” she explained.

One of the first DNA samples the group tested, she said, was her own.

“I know that I have a long, narrow face, but to see that my DNA says I have a long, narrow face—that was pretty cool,” she said.

They’ve helped create physical appearance and ancestry predictions for nearly 150 cases.

“Every time we report this information back to the investigators, they are so excited. A lot of times, these are cold cases and these are unsolved for decades and they never knew who they were looking for,” Greytak said.

An artist uses the predictions to create the Snapshot. Greytak says some features cannot be determined by DNA evidence.

“Your DNA doesn’t say how you’re going to wear your hair, so he has to select a hair style,” she explained.

Other factors that she says they cannot predict are things like weight, scarring, and tattoos.

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