Bin Laden's DNA match made within hours

May 2, 2011 3:40:45 PM PDT
The federal government released information about the techniques it used to identify Osama bin laden.

First, on the scene, two women at the compound identified bin laden after he was killed. Second, when the Navy SEAL team got back to Jalalabad they measured his body. He was over six-feet-four inches tall.

Third, they conducted a computer facial recognition analysis, which concluded a 90 to 95 percent match.

In addition to a visual identification, officials also used facial recognition and DNA evidence to confirm Osama bin Laden's identity.

It was just a few hours after the raid that investigators made the DNA match, but it's a process that sometimes takes days, if not weeks.

The DNA match of bin Laden was fast and that surprised some people because at crime labs, there's often a delay because of the case load. Baylor scientists showed us how a DNA match can be made within hours.

At Baylor's Molecular and Human Genetics lab, they showed us one way a quick DNA match could be processed in the field.

DNA from blood goes into a machine to copy it. Then it's loaded into a DNA analyzer which prints the information as graphs. Then they're read by a geneticist. How long does this take?

"Two to three hours would be easy enough; it's possible with a special effort you can get under that time somewhat," said Dr. Arthur Beaudet, head of Baylor's Molecular and Human Genetics lab.

But to do a DNA match of bin Laden, they had to have someone to which to compare his DNA.

"They thought so far in advance to get one of his family members and they were able to get a sample from a family member," Baylor Molecular Geneticist Dr. Alecia Willis said.

The FBI reportedly got a DNA sample from bin Laden's sister, who died in Boston of brain cancer in 2005.

"I think it shows we were greatly prepared for doing this," Willis said.

Baylor's Molecular and Human Genetics lab uses DNA for medical research. Our Christi Myers took a DNA test at a lab that does family and paternity matching. Like many places today, Pinnacle Medical Management tests DNA using cheek swabs.

They don't do the testing at the facility but it's still fast.

"We send it out overnight and then we get results on the third day that morning," said Heather Guillory, VP of the Pinnacle Medical Management.

There have been some reports that a second DNA test was done to confirm the bin Laden death. Baylor geneticists say when their lab gets a positive result they typically do a repeat test for confirmation. In forensics situations, they say, there's not always enough DNA for a repeat test.

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