Technology has come as an incredible force multiplier for law-enforcement agencies across the world and they are exploring ways to gain the most out of it to make the world a more secure place. In this effort, Australian federal police say they are using an advanced DNA sequencing technology to predict the physical appearance of potential suspects. The technology, also known as Massive Parallel Sequencing, makes use of the DNA left by criminals at a crime scene. Using it, law enforcement agencies will be able to predict the gender, biogeographical ancestry, eye colour, etc. of a suspect even if there’s no matching records in police databases.

Experts see it as a game-changing technology in the hands of forensic teams but they are also worried about its potential use for racial profiling, personal and genetic privacy. Human DNA is 99.9 percent identical and only 0.1 percent difference in it makes each of us genetically different from one another. During a crime scene investigation, forensic experts rely on this 0.1 percent difference to trace or identify the suspects.

Prof Adrian Linacre, chair in forensic DNA technology at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, told The Guardian, “This new methodology is telling you things about the person … externally visible characteristics.” The technology is capable of sequencing “tens of millions of bits of DNA in one go”, he added.

But this technology is still evolving. Linacre said investigating a crime scene is a complex job and most things found there are mixtures of two or three people’s DNA. In those situations, he added, traditional DNA profiling techniques work well but using the new MPS technology could lead to inconclusive results. “We’re still yet to develop really good software programmes to deconvolute massive parallel sequencing data.”

Dr. Paul Roffey, the lead scientist at Australian federal police forensics, said the agency is aiming to widen prediction to include age, body mass index, and height.