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Integrated DNA and Fingerprint Analyses in the Identification of 60-Year-Old Mummified Human Remains Discovered in an Alaskan Glacier

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This report describes the identification of a merchant mariner who perished in 1948 when Northwest Airlines Flight 4422, a DC-4 carrying 24 seamen and six crew members crashed into Mount Sanford, Alaska. Fifty-one years later, a human forearm and hand were found close by the wreckage of the plane, prompting identification efforts using DNA and fingerprints. There were significant challenges to both the fingerprint and DNA analyses. The hand was badly desiccated, making fingerprint friction-ridge detail almost invisible and the remains had been embalmed upon discovery, making DNA amplification difficult. We present the results of an interdisciplinary approach that successfully addressed these challenges and ultimately led to the identification of the remains. These efforts relied on efficient fingerprint rejuvenation and imaging techniques that improved print resolution, as well as new DNA extraction techniques optimized for aggressively embalmed remains.
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Keywords: ancient DNA; embalming; fingerprint analysis; forensic genealogy; forensic science; interdisciplinary; low copy number STR; merchant mariners; mitochondrial DNA

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, 1413 Research Blvd., Rockville, MD 20850. 2: Genesis Genomics, 305-1294 Balmoral Street, Thunder Bay, ON P7B 5Z5, Canada. 3: Yeiser & Associates, 18198 Aztec Ct., Fountain Valley, CA 92708. 4: Berrien County Sheriff’s Department, 919 Port Street, St. Joseph, MI 49085. 5: Centre for Forensic Research, Ancient DNA Laboratory, Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada. 6: Evident, 739 Brooks Mill Rd, Union Hall, VA 24176. 7: Forensic Science Department, George Washington University, 2036 H St. NW, Washington, DC 20052.

Publication date: 2010-05-01

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