Development of a quality, high throughput DNA analysis procedure for skeletal samples to assist with the identification of victims from the World Trade Center attacks.

Publication/Presentation Date



The attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) Towers on September 11, 2001, represented the single largest terrorist-related mass fatality incident in the history of the United States. More than 2,700 individuals of varied racial and ethnic background lost their lives that day. Through the efforts of thousands of citizens, including recovery workers, medical examiners, and forensic scientists, the identification of approximately 1,500 victims had been accomplished through June 2003 (the majority of these identifications were made within the first 8-12 months). The principal role of The Bode Technology Group (Bode) in this process was to develop a quality, high throughput DNA extraction and short tandem repeat (STR) analysis procedure for skeletal elements, and to provide STR profiles to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) in New York City to be used for identification of the victims. A high throughput process was developed to include electronic accessioning of samples, so that the numbering system of the OCME was maintained; rapid preparation and sampling of skeletal fragments to allow for the processing of more than 250 fragments per day; use of a 96-well format for sample extraction, DNA quantification, and STR analysis; and use of the Applied Biosystems 3100 and 3700 instrumentation to develop STR profiles. Given the highly degraded nature of the skeletal remains received by Bode, an advanced DNA extraction procedure was developed to increase the quantity of DNA recovery and reduce the co-purification of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification inhibitors. In addition, two new STR multiplexes were developed specifically for this project, which reduced the amplicon size of the STR loci, and therefore, enhanced the ability to obtain results from the most challenged of samples. In all, the procedures developed allowed for the analysis of more than 1,000 skeletal samples each week. Approximately 13,000 skeletal fragments were analyzed at least once, for a total of more than 18,000 analyses, and greater than 8,000 of the skeletal samples produced STR results (65%). The percentage of successful results was low in relation to previous mass fatality incidents involving airline disasters. However, when this same process was applied to the analysis of skeletal remains from the American Airlines Flight 587 disaster that occurred on November 12, 2001, the success rate was in line with expected results (ie, greater than 92% of the skeletal remains produced results). This illustrated the quality aspects of the procedure and the degree of degradation that had occurred for the remains of the WTC victims. For future mass fatality incidents, the quality, high throughput procedures developed by Bode will allow for more rapid DNA analysis of victim remains, more rapid identification of victims, and thus more rapid return of remains to family members.





First Page


Last Page





Medicine and Health Sciences




Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Document Type