Tune into any mainstream crime or court television show and it’s clear that DNA test results could mean the difference between freedom and indictment. This also holds true in reality, with genetic test results emerging as one of the top forms of evidence presented in a courtroom. Whether for forensic investigations or paternity questions, genetic test outcomes are often used for life-changing decisions – and accuracy cannot be taken for granted. Producing test results that are accurate and reliable requires the work of an experienced and accredited laboratory.
Orchid Cellmark Inc., recognized as a leader in genetic testing, has been conducting paternity and forensic analyses for almost 30 years. Through its laboratories in Nashville, Tennessee and Dallas, Texas, the company conducts DNA forensic analyses for federal, state and local crime laboratories, as well as for law enforcement and private agencies. One of its primary services includes generating profiles for the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), used to streamline crime investigations across the USA. Due to its strong reputation, the company was awarded a contract by the New York City Chief Medical Examiner’s Office to help identify remains of victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
Orchid Cellmark has tested hundreds of thousands of offender samples and provided results for tens of thousands of cases since its inception. Rigorous quality control programs are in place to ensure that test results are accurate, operations are efficient, and stringent regulatory and accreditation standards are met.
As part of its quality assurance program, Orchid Cellmark uses the Artel MVS® Multichannel Verification System and the Artel PCS® Pipette Calibration System to verify the performance of its automated liquid handlers. The MVS and PCS provide NIST- traceable measurements of the accuracy and precision of transferred volumes and help eliminate liquid handling error, enhancing data integrity while streamlining the QC process.
Liquid handling is a core component of day-to-day operations at Orchid Cellmark, whether developing offender profiles for upload into CODIS or analyzing samples for crime scene investigations. Across its facilities, the organization uses more than ten automated liquid handlers, ranging from single probe instruments to 96-channel systems. These are used to conduct a variety of processes, most commonly extraction, quantitation and normalization of DNA. At every step along the way, volume accuracy in pipetting is important.
Using automated equipment has helped Orchid Cellmark increase throughput and reproducibility, and minimize the possibility of human error. When the organization made the switch to liquid handling robots, it sought robust technology to verify the performance of its instrumentation to ensure accurate volume transfers.
“It’s no secret that in forensic DNA testing, the consequences are extreme when results are not correct,” said Kristie Trudeau, Manager, Facility Quality Assurance, Orchid Cellmark. “It is extremely important with forensic DNA testing that we use the best quality practices out there because there is absolutely no room for error. With our current liquid handling quality assurance system and tools in place, we are able to track back our testing at every step of the way and be completely confident in our results.”
The majority of Orchid Cellmark’s laboratory processes involve low-volume liquid handling, with transfers as small as one microliter . Inaccuracies as slight as a fraction of a microliter have the potential to affect results, possibly leading to false negatives. The laboratories also use their automated liquid handlers to transfer volumes as high as 900 microliters. It was important that they select calibration equipment to verify instrumentation across this volume range. Additionally, they needed technology able to verify liquid handlers with up to 96-channels.
“When we were researching various instruments and options for calibration of our automated liquid handlers, there weren’t any other tools or services that compared to the Artel MVS and Artel PCS. With the MVS, we can scale right down to 1 microliter; and with the PCS we can scale all the way up to 900 microliters,” said Trudeau.
Due to the high volume of testing at Orchid Cellmark, efficiency and quality are top priorities.
With the MVS, 96-channel liquid handler calibration is completed quickly as compared to a gravimetric approach, reducing equipment downtime and enhancing the laboratories’ ability to meet deadlines. Based on Artel’s ratiometric photometry technology, the MVS and PCS measure the absorbance of light by two specially formulated dyes to verify volume. Both systems provide traceable measurements of the accuracy and precision of transferred volumes, ensuring standardized volumes across Orchid Cellmark’s facilities and compliance with regulatory requirements.
Channel-by-channel information is also important for troubleshooting liquid handling processes. The MVS produces information about each dispensing tip of liquid handling robots with up to 384 channels. The MVS Data Manager software creates summary reports containing the calculated dispensed volumes. Accuracy and precision of the dispensed volumes are measured against user-defined tolerance limits and failing values are flagged in the reports.
Due to the speed and ease-of-use of the Artel systems, Orchid Cellmark is able to optimize their automated liquid handlers when they introduce a new test, and to troubleshoot their instrumentation when they suspect a problem.
Obtaining laboratory accreditation is a necessity for Orchid Cellmark, and the company goes above and beyond to demonstrate its commitment to quality. The organization’s Nashville and Dallas laboratories are accredited by ASCLD/LAB–International (American Society of Crime Lab Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board) and FQS-I (Forensic Quality Services International). To meet these standards, the company’s facilities must demonstrate that all technical operations and overall management structure meet ISO 17025 requirements. The laboratories are also accredited by the AABB and hold permits of testing from the New York State Department of Health and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
All accreditations involve an assessment that ensures that the laboratory conforms to the accreditation standards, including conducting regular calibrations and documentation of results. Orchid Cellmark meets or exceeds all applicable requirements of these independent accrediting agencies. With the MVS and PCS, they can efficiently calibrate each of their liquid handlers regularly and produce traceable and automatically documented verifications.
Orchid Cellmark takes a number of steps to guarantee the accuracy of its laboratory operations and provide results used to make critical decisions that profoundly affect human lives. With its robust calibration systems in place, the organization can reliably trust that the results it provides can stand up in a court of law.
Orchid Cellmark (Nasdaq: ORCH) is a leading international provider of DNA testing services primarily for forensic and family relationship applications. Orchid Cellmark is one of the largest providers of forensic DNA testing services and its DNA results are used by the criminal justice system to assist with the identification of perpetrators, the exclusion of suspects and the exoneration of wrongfully convicted individuals. The company provides DNA family relationship testing to numerous child services organizations and individuals seeking to verify parentage. Orchid Cellmark also serves immigration and security authorities for DNA testing of individuals. In the agriculture field, the company provides DNA testing services for selective trait breeding. Orchid Cellmark’s strong market positions in these areas reflect the company’s accredited laboratories in the U.S. and U.K., its innovative genetic analysis technologies and expertise, and the company’s reputation for exceptional quality, reliability and customer service for nearly two decades.