Retrieving information about externally visible characteristics from DNA can provide investigative leads to find unknown perpetrators, and can also help in disaster victim and other missing person identification cases. Aiming for the application to both types of forensic casework, we previously developed and forensically validated the HIrisPlex test system enabling parallel DNA prediction of eye and hair colour. Although a recent proof-of-principle study demonstrated the general suitability of the HIrisPlex system for successfully analysing DNA from bones and teeth of various storage times and conditions, practical case applications to human remains are scarce. In this study, we applied the HIrisPlex system to 49 DNA samples obtained from bones or teeth of World War II victims excavated at six sites, mostly mass graves, in Slovenia. PCR-based DNA quantification ranged from 4 pg/μl to 313 pg/μl and on an average was 41 pg/μl across all samples. All 49 samples generated complete HIrisPlex profiles with the exception of one MC1R DNA marker (N29insA) missing in 83.7% of the samples. In 44 of the 49 samples (89.8%) complete 15-loci autosomal STR (plus amelogenin) profiles were obtained. Of 5 pairs of skeletal remains for which STR profiling suggested an origin in the same individuals, respectively, 4 showed the same HIrisPlex profiles and predicted eye and hair colours, respectively, while discrepancies in one pair (sample 26 and 43) are likely to be explained by DNA quantity and quality issues observed in sample 43. Sample 43 had the lowest DNA concentration of only 4 pg/μl, producing least reliable STR results and could be misleading in concluding that samples 43 and 26 originate from the same individual. The HIrisPlex-predicted eye and hair colours from two skeletal samples, suggested to derive from two brothers via STR profiling together with a living sister, were confirmed by the living sister's report. Overall, we demonstrate that after more than 70 years, HIrisPlex-based eye and hair colour prediction from skeletal remains is feasible with high success rate. Our results further encourage the use of the HIrisPlex system in missing person/disaster victim identification to aid the identification process in cases where ante-mortem samples or putative relatives are not directly available, and DNA predicted eye and hair colour information provides leads for locating them, allowing STRbased individual identification.

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Forensic Science International: Genetics
Department of Genetic Identification

Chaitanya, L., Pajnič, I. Z., Walsh, S., Balažic, J., Zupanc, T. (Tomaž), & Kayser, M. (2017). Bringing colour back after 70 years: Predicting eye and hair colour from skeletal remains of World War II victims using the HIrisPlex system. Forensic Science International: Genetics, 26, 48–57. doi:10.1016/j.fsigen.2016.10.004