Saskatoon police look into using DNA phenotyping to find mother of dead baby

Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) has reached out to Calgary police to learn more about a technological tool that could help identify the mother of a dead baby girl who was found last November.

Investigators have hit a wall trying to find the mother after the baby girl was discovered in a recycling dumpster just north of downtown Saskatoon.

Police hope crime-scene evidence can aid their search, like it did during a similar situation from Calgary back in 2017.

“One of the options that we have is the ability to send a sample of DNA away and they use the information that’s contained within the DNA to provide us a picture of what the mother of that infant would look like,” SPS Chief Troy Cooper said.

Two months after Christmas Eve 2017, Calgary Police Service (CPS) put out images of what the mother could look like based on information from her DNA found at the scene.

Officers worked with a Virgina-based DNA technology company that’s able to determine characteristics like ancestry, natural hair colour and eye colour.

“It provides leads in cases. The police still have to do police work as they always have and importantly, they’re going to have to use traditional DNA-matching at the end of any of these investigations for that positive identification,” Parabon NanoLabs CEO Steven Armentrout said.

The phenotype snapshot will be able to determine an image, but Arementrout said it is limited and can’t determine the subject’s weight, age or any physical changes like tattoos, dyed hair or scars.

He added if police could say whether the subject is larger or slimmer, Parabon can make alterations to the image.

CPS charged Nina Albright with indignity to a dead body and failing to provide the necessaries of life last month.

The phenotype snapshot provided more than 70 tips, but police were able to find and track her through CCTV footage.

SPS hopes these advances can help paint a clearer portrait to help them solve similar cases.

“Until this point, what we’ve used DNA for is to exclude people or include them as (to whether) this was the person at the scene. And now that you think about what’s included in your DNA, everything about you is in your DNA, so we’re finding it more useful than just excluding people from crime scenes,” Cooper said.

CPS said the cost of the phenotype is around $10,000 which is in line with other DNA tests.

SPS said even though its forensic officers collect data at crime scenes, the science is done at RCMP labs in Edmonton and Ottawa.

It added that more tests are being done on the baby girl’s DNA, but those results could take up to a year.

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