Magazine Feature / People

Recent grad develops computer program that could change forensic investigations

Colin Erdman (BA ’07) graduated in June with more than a degree in molecular biology. As he wound down his studies at DU, Erdman put the finishing touches on FLiPARS, a computer program that is poised to revolutionize forensic investigation.

FLiPARS, Fractional Linkage Phase Analysis Resource System, can identify mitochondrial DNA strands from different individuals, making it easier to identify a single person from mass graves — even those from the Vietnam war-era. It also helps in solving crimes in which DNA from the attacker and victim may be commingled. It all began as a DUPartners in Scholarship (PinS) research project.

Biology Associate Professor Phil Danielson (PhD ’96) oversaw the project, which was funded by the U.S. Justice Department. Because it analyzes massive data sets in minutes, the software allows analysts to resolve questions quickly. It is open-source software, meaning that members of the forensics community may contribute to the design and function of the software in an effort to improve it.

“It can take a human hours to pick apart one sample by hand,” Danielson says. “Most forensic scientists are already overbooked with work. In the implementation phase under way we’re looking for major forensic labs interested in trying it out.”

Erdman says he became interested in DNA and forensics work while working on another PinS project in Danielson’s lab. 

“The mixture separation project has been a major focus in the Danielson lab, and I was eager to contribute to it in my own way,” Erdman says.

Now that the software has been tested, debugged and is completely operational, Danielson is talking with forensic scientists at places like the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Mitotyping Technologies and the University of Connecticut about using FLiPARS. 

Danielson says Erdman not only wrote the code, he collaborated with computer science students to work out bugs in the software, created a graphical user interface so the program would function like a Windows program, developed the software’s acronym and even designed the logo.

Erdman is interning at Affinity BioReagents, a small biotechnology company in Golden, Colo., which supplies biomolecules to the research community.

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