Because contamination is usually tube-specific, negative controls cannot give assurance that an associated batch of extracted casework material is contaminant-free. However, it is possible to use them to predict the level of overall (undetected) contamination that is processed by an operational DNA unit. A MATLAB®-based program was used to combine results of negative controls with actual casework DNA profiles to assess the probability that laboratory contaminants will give rise to reportable profiles (along with their likelihood ratios). Using data from an operational DNA unit as an example, it was demonstrated that the risk is inextricably linked to guidelines used to interpret DNA profiles. We have demonstrated how computer-based models can predict the levels of contamination expected in the process and, in addition, how the process can be made more robust by changing reporting guidelines. There is a need to compare DNA profiles against staff and plasticware elimination databases in order to determine sources of contamination. The likeliest outcome of a contamination event is false exclusion.
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