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The Prime Minister’s Science Prize has been given to ESR’s innovative forensic software, STRmix™, which interprets DNA profiles.

ESR chief executive Keith McLea says the award highlights the outstanding work of ESR scientists who are not just innovative and experts in their field, but can produce something the world wants.

Introduced in 2012, STRmix™ has accounted for a 30 to 50 per cent improvement in the country’s DNA profiling success rate.

The original team of ESR scientists, John Buckleton and Jo-Anne Bright, as well as Duncan Taylor from Forensic Science, South Australia, has now grown to 16, with STRmix™ used in countries all around the world.

It has been estimated that the software has been used in more than 100,000 criminal cases and has taken usable DNA evidence in the US courts from 40 percent to 70 percent.

A powerful analytical tool, STRmix™ can be used to include an individual as a possible suspect in a crime sample, but can also exclude an individual.

Dr Buckleton says with its power to exonerate as well as convict, STRmix™ has been transformational in advancing justice.

The Federal District Attorneys call it the second great transformation after the advent of DNA,” he says.

The expert scientific software combines standard statistics with sophisticated biological models, developed by ESR, and is used to determine all the possible DNA profiles and mixtures at a crime scene.

A DNA mixture occurs when there is more than one individual within a profile, something often seen at crime scenes.  In complex mixtures – anything from two to five donors – the samples are often in low amounts and previously were unusable in evidence.

"You could tell the evidence was there, but there was no manner to express it in court in a sustainable way,” Dr Buckleton says.

“So the problem STRmix™ is solving is that it draws an evidential inference from a more complex mixture.”

Dr Jo-Anne Bright says STRmix™ is the world number one software for the interpretation of DNA profiles, with its transparency (all the algorithms supporting the software have been published) really important for the criminal justice system.

“We are this small science team at the bottom of the world and we are world leaders in forensic interpretation,” she says.

Chief Executive Dr McLea says the award shows ESR scientists are doing a fantastic job.

“We’re already at the cutting edge of DNA research. STRmix™ reinforces that ESR and New Zealand is right out in front of the world in forensic science.

“I see a very bright future for STRmix™.”

Dr Buckleton agrees.

“We’ve barely begun getting this out to the rest of the world. There’s so much more left to do,” he says.

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Gael Woods