Police could soon be able to issue a photofit of a suspect by testing DNA left at a crime scene.

DNA is already used in forensic investigations with officers collecting samples and then searching their databases for a match. Although this evidence is often vital in helping secure convictions, there are many occasions when the police cannot link the DNA they have found with an individual.

Now scientists in Australia are working on a way of using a DNA sample to work out what a suspect is likely to look like. Using the very latest technology, they will use the genetic profile to predict things about the person’s physical appearance including their hair and eye colour and their ancestry.

This information could then be used to create a photo fit which will be released to try and find out the suspect’s identity and track down potential witnesses to the crime.

The University of Canberra is working on the project and has funding to make improvements to its forensic laboratory. The institution hopes that it will be able to work with police and create molecular photo fits based on DNA as early as next year.

New technology will assist investigations

Dennis McNevin, an expert in forensic genetics, said the new methods would help assist police investigations in situations where no DNA match has been found.

He said: “If you get a match that’s all well and good, but if you don’t get a match then traditionally that’s a dead end. However, now we’re in a position where we can get some more information from that DNA.

“We don’t need to match it to anything.

“We can tell what the DNA donor may have looked like, their genetic ancestry, their hair colour, their eye colour, those kinds of things.”

However, he did warn that the technology would have to be used carefully and care would need to be taken to interpret the information gathered from the DNA profile.

Dr McNevin said: “You have to interpret with caution, offer the possibility that this is what the person could look like [and] provide all the caveats that underlie that prediction. But certainly, the same risk is applied to an eyewitness account.

“In fact, I would argue that a molecular photo fit has a potential to be more accurate.”

DNA technology can now be used for a large number of purposes including identifying biological relatives with paternity and other family relationship tests and finding out more about your own genetic ancestry.

People working in dangerous professions like the armed forces can also store their DNA profile to make it easier for their body to be identified if they are killed in the line of duty.