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UNT will train Libyan scientists to identify remains
Melissa Wylie / Senior Staff Writer
Libyan scientists will travel to the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth later this year to receive training to identify an estimated 20,000 human bodies found in recently discovered mass graves.
Following the end of Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi’s 42-year reign in 2011, mass graves were uncovered throughout the country, and the number of remains may continue to grow if more bodies are found.
Arthur Eisenberg, forensics and investigative genetics professor, is the director of the UNT Center for Human Identification in Fort Worth where four Libyan forensic scientists will learn techniques to analyze DNA.
The scientists selected from Libyan crime labs will most likely have little to no experience identifying human remains and are coming to utilize the UNTCHI lab which was designed as an international training facility, Eisenberg said.
“What we’re trying to do is get them up to speed on technologies,” Eisenberg said.
The scientists will be trained to use the Life Technologies equipment in the lab while a lab with identical equipment is constructed in Tripoli, Libya, Eisenberg said.
Patty Zamora, company spokesperson for Life Technologies, said the company was chosen to equip the lab by the Spanish-based oil company Repsol S.A. for the program because of its high reputation in the forensics field.
“Repsol S.A. is funding the project to establish a state-of-the-art laboratory to identify and generate profiles from human remains and references from associated relatives,” Zamora said. “Life Technologies has been appointed to set up the infrastructure and also validation, training and processing samples.”
UNTCHI, which operates in a close partnership with the UNT Institute of Forensic Anthropology, is continually financed by the U.S. Department of Justice and is not receiving funds from Repsol for its involvement in the project, Eisenberg said.
Individuals with missing loved ones in Libya have been encouraged to supply DNA samples to the forensic scientists that will be making identifications, Eisenberg said.
“The only way you can identify remains is to compare them to a direct sample from the missing person or DNA from a family member,” Eisenberg said. “You need two to three reference samples to build a pedigree from families.”
Eisenberg said one of the biggest challenges will be having the appropriate DNA from the deceased and the living to make matches.
“Some bones are easier to get DNA out of than others,” Eisenberg said. “If you can get DNA, then do you have the right DNA to compare it to?”
Forensic anthropologists, who make identifications by analyzing skeletons without the need for DNA, will be required to identify the remains that are human and usable from those that are not, Eisenberg said.
“The remains comingle,” Eisenberg said. “You can imagine a pit with all of these bones thrown in there. You have to have anthropologists pick the right bones from each of the potential victims.”
The scientists are expected to arrive in Fort Worth in early fall or winter after the lab in Tripoli is completed and the equipment has gone through validation, Eisenberg said.
The training will take two weeks, after which two members of the UNTCHI staff will return to Libya with the scientists to assist during the initial processes, Eisenberg said.