School of Biomedical Sciences

Missing Persons Unit

The Missing Persons program began in 2002 after Texas Senate bill 1304 was passed. This bill stated that a missing persons DNA database was to be created by the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC).  Shortly thereafter UNTHSC obtained federal funding from the National Institutes of Justice (NIJ).  The grants from NIJ have allowed the missing persons program to expand services across the country.

The purpose of the Missing Persons Unit (MPU) is to generate genetic data and provide kinship analyses to agencies that require assistance with unidentified human remains cases and/or missing persons cases.  This includes not only generating genetic data from unidentified human remains (bones, teeth, etc.), but from the families who are missing a loved one.  After genetic data are obtained from both remains and samples from family members, the genetic profiles are compared by a process called kinship analysis.

There are three types of DNA that the MPU is capable of processing: nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and Y-chromosome DNA.  Nuclear DNA is housed in the nucleus of the cell and contains DNA from an individual’s mother and father.  Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from mother to offspring and is contained within the many mitochondria organelles within a cell.  The Y-chromosome is also housed in the nucleus of a
cell, but is only inherited from fathers to sons.

The MPU is made up of two teams.  Both teams generate the same type of genetic data from samples, however, it is the type of samples processed that make each team different.  The family reference/databasing team processes buccal swabs (cheek cells) and blood obtained from family members who are related to a missing person.  The unidentified human remains team processes bones, teeth, and other bodily samples that have been obtained from a set of decomposed skeletal remains or an unidentified body.

Currently there are eight DNA analysts and three DNA technologists that serve in the MPU.  The laboratory is accredited by Forensic Quality Services International in accordance to the FBI National Quality Standards and ISO 17025.  Additionally, the MPU is a Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) participating laboratory.

If you need to inquire about our services and case acceptance policies, please contact the technical leader of the MPU.