California is using war-zone DNA tests to identify fire victims

It will cut the process from weeks down to just two hours.

Zoey Chong Reporter
Zoey is CNET's Asia News Reporter based in Singapore. She prefers variety to monotony and owns an Android mobile device, a Windows PC and Apple's MacBook Pro all at the same time. Outside of the office, she can be found binging on Korean variety shows, if not chilling out with a book at a café recommended by a friend.
Zoey Chong
2 min read
Blue Cut Fire Rages Through 30,000 Acres In Southern California

The fires continue to blaze.

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California is working quickly to identify victims of the state's ongoing deadly fires, as rain, which could wash away their remains, is predicted in the coming days.

Authorities are using a DNA-testing technology typically employed in war zones to identify victims, instead of traditional DNA-analysis techniques. They can take much longer, sometimes weeks, and aren't as effective at identifying the worst burn cases, Bloomberg reported Monday.

DNA analysis specialist firm ANDE will provide the on-the-field equipment, which it describes as a "lab in a box", no bigger than an office printer, according to Bloomberg. The instrument can automatically process DNA and generate a genetic profile in two hours or less.

The ANDE team will compare DNA samples extracted from tissue and bone fragments collected by rescue workers on site against a reference database. This database will be built based on cheek swabs given by family members of those who are unaccounted for.

It's reportedly the first time the equipment -- designed for use in places such as war zones or crime scenes where samples have to be processed quickly or a lab isn't accessible -- has been deployed at a natural disaster since ANDE's founding in 2000.

"The greatest concern was the fact that so many of the remains were badly decomposed or badly degraded," ANDE's chief communications officer Annette Mattern told Bloomberg.

"We're dealing with fire, which is the worst-case scenario when you're trying to extract DNA," she added.

The Californian fires, which began burning Nov. 8, have caused 77 deaths with over 1,000 missing so far, ranking them among the US' most devastating catastrophes this century. The sight is harrowing even from space, seen in pictures shared by NASA from its Terra satellite last week.

Watch this: How drones are helping fight California's wildfires

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