DNA samples of over 7,000 armed forces personnel, who are considered to be “at the highest risk of death”, have been collected and stored at the DNA profiling centre and repository in the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune. Part of an ambitious project of the Armed Forces Medical Services to develop a repository of 11,30,000 armed forces personnel, the exercise has already helped establish the identity of Indian Air Force personnel killed in two separate air crashes last year.
Lieutenant General Bipin Puri, Director General, Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS), said the stored DNA samples were used to identify the mortal remains of defence personnel during the SU 30 MKI aircraft crash on May 23 last year. “The remains recovered from the crash site included a shoe with an identity tag, a wallet with credit and debit cards, and a portion of the left hand. DNA samples of both pilots had been preserved at the repository at AFMC,” said Lt Gen Puri.
The biological samples recovered from the crash site and DNA samples preserved in the repository were used by the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad, to successfully establish the identity of one pilot officer. This case showed that the DNA repository was a practical system to establish the identity of armed forces personnel from their remains, said AFMC officials.
In July 2017, when a ALH Mk II Helicopter crashed during a flood relief sortie, the identity of three members of the crew — two officers and one non-commissioned officer — was established as their DNA samples were preserved in the repository.
The DNA samples of defence personnel were being collected in a phased manner, said Lt Gen Puri. Personnel who are in ‘priority 1’ and at the highest risk of death — including paratroopers, NSG, army aviators, submariners, naval aviators and pilots — have been identified and at least 7,000 samples have been collected and stored at the repository, said the DGAFMS.
The samples are being preserved and bar coded, to generate DNA profiles that will be invaluable in identifying the deceased personnel, said officials at the DNA profiling centre.
DNA profiling of body parts is the only fool-proof scientific method to establish the identity of the deceased, said officials, adding that methods like identifying the deceased by examining personal belongings, studying identification marks and comparing photographs doesn’t work when there is extensive mutilation and disfigurement of the body.
Till now, 170 medical officers have been trained as part of the exercise, which is being implemented in a time-bound manner. The protocol for generating DNA profile from samples stored on FTA cards (DNA collection kit) has been developed and plans are underway to generate as many as 625 profiles till October this year