• Kyodo

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The National Police Agency will install automatic DNA analyzers at four prefectural police headquarters to speed up the process of identifying victims during disasters, NPA officials said.

The analyzers, which can examine a massive number of DNA samples simultaneously, will be provided to the Hokkaido, Saitama, Osaka and Fukuoka forces by the end of March. The installation was prompted by the extensive efforts needed to analyze the tremendous volume of DNA samples in the wake of last year’s disasters.

The ability of the four analyzers roughly matches that of the existing analyzer at the National Research Institute of Police Science in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture.

In addition to their potential use in disasters, the four analyzers will be lined up as substitutes for the one at the Chiba institute in case it malfunctions, the officials said, adding that the new devices will also be used for criminal investigations by the prefectural police.

“While we have selected the four prefectures in light of regional balance, we expect them to work not only for disasters in their respective areas but also for incidents that could happen elsewhere across the country, if necessary,” an NPA official said Sunday.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami left hundreds of corpses along a wide coastal stretch of the Tohoku region. Police in severely hit Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures thus asked other prefectural forces to help analyze DNA specimens taken from the dead.

To speed up the process, the new analyzer to be set up for the Osaka force, for example, will enable examiners to analyze specimens taken from up to 80 bodies simultaneously.

The advanced analyzers are also instrumental in creating a DNA database to help police with the identification process, the officials said.

As of Jan. 11, 15,166 corpses had been identified from the March catastrophe. In the three hardest-hit prefectures, 2,445, or 16 percent of the total, were identified with the use of DNA analysis.

Of the 2,445, reliable DNA samples, such as hair, were not available from 2,303 bodies and thus identification entailed assessing other particulars, including belongings, physical characteristics and tests for parentage determination, the officials said.

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