Virginia Lab uses genetic genealogy to help solve violent crimes

RESTON, VA. (KBTX) - A DNA lab in Virginia is cracking decades-old murder mysteries and putting a face on violent crimes in the Brazos Valley.

“I hope they know they are living on borrowed time,” said Ellen Greytak, Parabon's Director of Bioinformatics.

Greytak and the Parabon Nanolabs team is putting a sense of fear in serial killers and violent predators.

Parabon has found a new way to analyze DNA found at the scene of a violent crime.

“Once DNA testing became routine I can imagine these people probably worked very hard to make sure they never committed a crime that would cause them to be DNA tested,” said Greytak.

That was the struggle for College Station police when they were trying to figure out who was breaking into the homes of young college-aged women.

“We entered our suspect in this case into CODIS, he wasn’t in CODIS,” said CSPD’s Billy Couch.

CODIS is a national database where convicted felons have to submit their DNA.

Parabon helps law enforcement find a match to crime scene DNA in two different ways.

They can use genetics to show what the person might look like and they can find a relative of the suspect by running the crime scene DNA against a public database of profiles from popular ancestry websites.

"When that crime scene DNA is uploaded to the GED Match database it gives us a list of people who share a significant amount of DNA with that unknown suspect,” said CeCe Moore, Parabon’s Chief Genetic Genealogist. “From those people’s family tree we start to piece together the unknown suspect's family tree."

GED Match is populated by users who have profiles on sites like Ancestry or 23 and Me. Those profiles have to be downloaded by the user and then uploaded to GED Match.

"There are about 22 million people that have already participated in consumer genetics and we only have about 1.2 million who have chosen to upload to GED Match,” said Moore. “A lot of people already have the test. The more people who upload, the more efficiently we will be able to help solve these cases and the more cases we will be able to address."

Sites like ancestry.com and 23andMe have privacy guidelines, they will not just share your DNA data, and you have to upload them to a site like GED Match if you want to help law enforcement solve violent crimes like sexual assault and homicide.

You can do that by logging on to GEDmatch.com and signing up for a profile.