Developed in New Zealand by two scientists at the New Zealand Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), John Buckleton and Jo-Anne Bright, in conjunction with Duncan Taylor from Forensic Science South Australia, STRmix™ is now the most widely used DNA interpretation software in New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and North America.
Since its introduction in 2012, STRmix™ has been used to interpret DNA evidence in more than 100,000 cases worldwide. This includes numerous court cases and 28 successful admissibility hearings in the U.S.
STRmix™ is currently being used by 43 federal, state, and local agencies in the U.S., including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). It is in various stages of installation, validation, and training in more than 60 other U.S. labs.
The Prize is for a transformative scientific discovery or achievement which has had a significant economic, health, social, and/or environmental impact on New Zealand or internationally in the last five years. The award will go toward supporting the ongoing work of the STRmix™ team, a group of 16 researchers, scientists, and software developers at ESR, many of whom also have a background in forensic science.
Dr. Buckleton notes that before STRmix™, complex mixtures of DNA – any mixture of two or more persons – were unusable. “You could tell the evidence was there, but there was no manner to express that in court in a sustainable way,” he explains.
“What STRmix™ does is draw an evidential inference from a more complex mixture, whereas previously there were just not the methods to draw any inference from such evidence,” Dr. Buckleton continues. Using standard, well-established statistical methods to build up a picture of the DNA genotypes, STRmix™ “can take a person of interest, compare him with a profile of a crime scene, and produce an inference whether that person is included or excluded.”
Describing the Prime Minister’s Science Prize as “a great honor,” Dr. Buckleton concludes, “We are told we’ve taken usable DNA evidence in the U.S. courts from 40 percent to 70 percent, so we’re not just exonerating more false donors and convicting more true donors. We’re advancing the cause of justice in the U.S. and more broadly.”
ESR Chief Executive Dr. Keith McLea agrees, adding, “The award shows we’re already at the cutting edge of DNA research. STRmix™ reinforces that ESR and New Zealand are right out in front of the world in forensic science. I see a very bright future for STRmix™.”
STRmix™ introduced the latest version of the software, STRmix™ v2.6, in August 2018. The new version features a user interface that has been completely redeveloped and refreshed, providing users with vastly improved usability and workflow. Version 2.6 also enables a range of contributors to be entered when performing a deconvolution, and any type of stutter to be added and configured.