Bonaparte Disaster Victim Identification System

Society is increasingly aware of the possibility of a mass disaster. Recent examples are the WTC attacks, the tsunamis, and various airplane crashes. In such an event, the recovery and identification of the remains of the victims is of great importance, both for humanitarian as well as legal reasons. Disaster victim identification (DVI), i.e. the identification of victims of a mass disaster, is greatly facilitated by the advent of modern DNA technology. In forensic laboratories, DNA profiles can be recorded from small samples of body remains which may otherwise be unidentifiable.

The identification task is the match of the unidentified victim with a reported missing person. This is often complicated by the fact that the match has to be made in an indirect way. This is the case when there is no reliable reference material of the missing person. In these cases DNA profiles can be taken from relatives. Since their profiles are statistically related to the profile of the missing person (first degree family members share about half of their DNA) an indirect match can be made.

In cases with one victim, identification is a reasonable straightforward task for forensic researchers. In the case of a few victims, the puzzle to match the victims and the missing persons is often still doable by hand (either by using a spread sheet or with software tools available on the internet). However, large scale DVI is infeasible this way and an automated routine is indispensable for forensic institutes that need to be prepared for DVI.

the identification problem

The Bonaparte system has been developed as a tool for forensic researchers to automatically carry out DNA matching. In its core, the biology of Mendelian inheritance is modeled using Bayesian networks. These models can directly be applied in kinship analysis with any type of pedigree of relatives of the missing persons. An additional advantage of a Bayesian network approach is that it makes the analysis tool more transparent and flexible, allowing to incorporate other factors that play a role - such as measurement error probability, missing data, statistics of more advanced genetic markers etc.

Bonaparte has been developed in collaboration with the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI). In 2010, NFI has successfully deployed Bonaparte to identify victims from the Afriqiyah Airways crash in Tripoli, Libya.

Tripoli air crash site