The VISible Attributes Through GEnomics - VISAGE - Consortium aims to overcome the general limitation of current forensic DNA analysis by broadening forensic DNA evidence towards constructing composite sketches of unknown perpetrators from as many biological traces and sources and as fast as possible within current legal frameworks and ethical guidelines. The VISAGE Project will establish new scientific knowledge, develop prototype tools for DNA analysis and statistical interpretation, validate and implement these tool in forensic practice, investigate the ethical, societal and regulatory dimensions, widely disseminate the outcome and educate stake holder and target groups concerning the prediction of a person’s appearance, age, and bio-geographic ancestry from DNA traces, which will help finding unknown perpetrators of crime unidentifiable with standard DNA profiling via focussed police investigation. The VISAGE Consortium consists of 13 partners from academic, police and justice institutions of 8 European countries, and brings together forensic genetic researchers and forensic DNA practitioners, statistical geneticists and social scientists to achieve the project aims. The VISAGE Project & Consortium receives funding from Horizon 2020 The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Secure Societies Challenge.
Overall, the VISAGE Consortium aims to overcome the general limitation of current forensic use of DNA by broadening it towards constructing composite sketches of unknown perpetrators from traces recovered at crime scenes.
Currently used standard forensic DNA profiling is only successful in cases where a DNA profile recovered from a human biological crime scene trace matches that of a potential suspect, who is either directly available via police investigation or by searching criminal DNA databases nationally or across Europe. However, there is an "information gap" in cases where a perpetrator has successfully escaped police investigation in the respective case or when the perpetrator's DNA profile has not yet been added to the criminal DNA database.
VISAGE aims to bridge this gap by providing reliable intelligence information on appearance, age, and ancestry of the unknown trace donor - all representing visible attributes approached through genomic means (hence the Consortium’s acronym VISAGE), as directly obtained from the trace DNA, which allows the construction of a composite sketch of the unknown trace donor.
By using this "biological witness" outcome information in the course of the case investigation, the search for the unknown perpetrator will be focussed and police will be guided towards the most likely person, or group of persons, meeting the composite sketch outcomes established from the trace DNA. Moreover, age, and to some extent bio-geographic ancestry information additionally allow searching in registers, which provides additional intelligence information.
We will achieve this overall aim by developing, validating and implementing in the relevant environment of routine forensic DNA service a set of prototype tools, the new VISAGE Toolkit, for producing as detailed as possible appearance, age, and bio-geographic ancestry prediction information of an unknown trace donor as fast as possible, allowing the construction of composite sketches from DNA of as many as possible crime scene traces.
The overall aim of VISAGE is to broaden the forensic use of DNA towards constructing composite sketches of unknown perpetrators from as many biological traces and sources and as fast as possible within current legal frameworks and ethical guidelines.
In particular, the VISAGE Consortium will:
1. Allocate previous and establish new DNA predictors for as detailed as possible information on appearance, age and ancestry.
2. Develop and forensically validate prototype tool(s) based on massively parallel sequencing (MPS) for simultaneously analysis of the identified DNA predictors of appearance, age and ancestry suitable for trace DNA.
3. Design an integrated interpretation framework including a prototype software for combined statistical consideration of the appearance, age, and ancestry DNA information delivered by the MPS tool(s), while responsibly considering a privacy-by-design approach and the relevant legal situation in EU Member States.
4. Identify and analyse the main challenges for, and make recommendations on, the legally, ethically and socially responsible implementation of constructing composite sketches from DNA for forensic use in EU Member States.
5. Implement the developed VISAGE Toolkit for constructing composite sketches from DNA traces in the routine forensic DNA service environment, thereby meeting the requested technical readiness level (TRL) 5.
6. Train the different target groups on the technical, interpretation, societal and regulatory issues of constructing composite sketches from DNA traces in forensic applications, and disseminate the major project outcomes to the relevant target groups and the wider public. Existing VISAGE contacts with global industry leaders in the field of forensic DNA products will aim at further developing the prototype outcomes into commercial products for future widespread application in routine forensic casework in the EU Member States and beyond.
Prof. Dr. Manfred Kayser (coordinator and work package leader) et al.,
Department of Genetic Identification, Erasmus MC University Medical Center Rotterdam, Netherlands
Prof. Dr. Wojciech Branicki et al.,
Malopolska Centre of Biotechnology, Jagiellonian University Krakow, Poland
Prof. Dr. Angel Carracedo & Chris Phillips et al.,
Institute of Forensic Science, University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Prof. Dr. Walther Parson (work package leader) et al.,
Institute of Legal Medicine, Medical University of Innsbruck, Austria
Prof. Dr. Michael Nothnagel (work package leader) et al.,
Cologne Center for Genomics, University of Cologne, Germany
Prof. Dr. Barbara Prainsack (work package leader) et al.,
Department of Social Science, Health & Medicine, King’s College London, United Kingdom
Prof. Dr. Peter M. Schneider (work package leader) et al.,
Institute of Legal Medicine, University Hospital Cologne, Germany
Dr. Ingo Bastisch (work package leader) et al.,
Kriminaltechnisches Institut, Bundeskriminalamt (German Federal Police), Germany
Dr. François-Xavier Laurent et al.,
Institut National de Police Scientifique (French Federal Police), France
Dr. Titia Sijen et al.,
Division of Biological Traces, Netherlands Forensic Institute, Netherlands
Dr. Johannes Hedmann et al.,
Swedish National Forensic Centre (Swedish Federal Police), Sweden
Dr. Shazia Khan et al.,
Metropolitan Police Service London, United Kingdom
Dr. Magdalena Spólnicka et al.,
Central Forensic Laboratory of the Police (Polish Federal Police), Poland
The Scientific Advisory Board of the VISAGE Project consists of the following distinguished experts in the field of forensic DNA analysis:
Dr. John Butler
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), U.S.A.
Dr. Thomas Parsons
International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), Headquarter in Netherlands
Dr. Susan Hitchin
INTERPOL, Headquarter in France
Dr. Antonio Alonso
National Institute of Toxicology and Forensic Sciences, Spain
Dr. Rainer Wenzel
Landeskriminalamt Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany
The Ethics and Societal Impact Advisory Board of the VISAGE Project consists of the following distinguished experts on ethical, societal, and regulatory dimensions of forensic DNA analysis:
Prof. Dr. Amade M’Charek
Department of Anthropology, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Prof. Dr. Catherine O’Regan
Faculty of Law, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
Dr. Corinna Kruse
Department of Thematic Studies - Technology and Social Change, Linköping University, Sweden
PD Dr. Reinhard Kreissl
Vienna Centre for Societal Security (VICESSE), Austria
Dr. Stefan Krauth
Defensoría Pública, Ecuador and Berlin, Germany
This project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020
Research and Innovation programme under grant agreement No 740580.