New DNA test helps identify 9/11 victims

Advances in DNA testing are helping to identify more victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. One new victim has been identified in each of the last 5 years thanks to advancements in DNA tests made since 2001.

The office of New York City’s chief medical examiner (CME) has announced that its new technology was able to recently identify financial worker Scott Michael Johnson (aged 26 years), who worked on the 89th floor of the South Tower.

The death toll after the two hijacked airliners crashed into the Twin Towers was 2753; however, the remains of more than 1000 people remain unidentified.

Pioneering analysis

The scientists made the breakthrough when they re-tested bone fragments they had examined many times before but with no success.

“These are all samples that we’ve tried in the past”, said Mark Desire, who leads the medical examiner’s crime lab.

Desire and his team clean the bone fragments recovered from the attack, pulverize them into a powder, add chemicals and incubate the sample. The sample is then placed into a large white automated extraction machine that pulls out any recoverable DNA. The new step involves placing the bone in a chamber containing liquid nitrogen, which makes the bone more fragile. The more a bone is pulverized, the more likely it is to extract DNA.

Known as the World Trade Center Protocol, the new DNA testing method has been used to help identify victims of terrorist attacks and train and plane crashes in Argentina, Canada and South Africa among other countries.

Advancements in DNA testing

Desire praised the CME who decided in 2001 to preserve human remains in anticipation of future advancements in DNA identification technology. Thanks to this decision, it is now possible for scientists years later to identify victims and bring peace to their families.

“If we did not take that step back in 2001, those remains would have continued to degrade and decompose and the DNA identifications we’re making this year probably would not be possible”, said Desire.

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