Research paper| Volume 33, P147-154, March 2018

Lessons from a study of DNA contaminations from police services and forensic laboratories in Switzerland

  • Patrick Basset
    Corresponding author.
    Unité de Génétique Forensique, Centre Universitaire Romand de Médecine Légale, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois et Université de Lausanne, Ch. de la Vulliette 4, 1000 Lausanne, Switzerland
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  • Vincent Castella
    Unité de Génétique Forensique, Centre Universitaire Romand de Médecine Légale, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois et Université de Lausanne, Ch. de la Vulliette 4, 1000 Lausanne, Switzerland
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Published:December 19, 2017DOI:


      • A survey about DNA contaminations in Switzerland.
      • About 1% of the profile sent to the national database are known to be contaminated.
      • Staff index elimination database allow early detection of contaminations.
      • Most contaminations likely occurred during DNA collection on crime scene.
      • Contamination prevention recommendations are necessary.


      In Switzerland, the DNA profiles of police officers collecting crime scene traces as well as forensic genetic laboratories employees are stored in the staff index of the national DNA database to detect potential contaminations. Our study aimed at making a national inventory of contaminations to better understand their origin and to make recommendations in order to decrease their occurrence. For this purpose, a retrospective questionnaire was sent to both police services and forensic genetic laboratories for each case where there was a contamination.
      Between 2011 and 2015, a total of 709 contaminations were detected. This represents a mean of 11.5 (9.6–13.4) contaminations per year per 1′000 profiles sent to the Swiss DNA database. Feedbacks were obtained from the police, the laboratory or both for 552/709 (78%) of the contaminations. Approximately 86% of these contaminations originated from police officers whereas only 11% were from genetic laboratories employees and 3% were associated to other sources (e.g. positive controls, stain–stain contaminations). Interestingly, a direct contact between the stain and the contaminant person occurred in only 51% of the laboratory contaminations whereas this number increased to 91% for police collaborators. The high level of indirect DNA transfer in laboratories might be explained by the presence of “DNA reservoirs” suggesting that cleaning procedures should be improved. At the police level, most contaminations originated from the person who collected the trace and likely occurred directly at the crime scene. Improving sampling practices could be beneficial to reduce these contaminations.


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