Philanthropists push police to search DNA databases
Mr. Mittelman, CEO of Othram, said his company has received more than $400,000 from philanthropic donors. According to Crunchbase, the start-up has also raised $28.5 million from institutional investors to corner the market around this new investigative technique. Founded in The Woodlands, Texas, in 2018, the company now has 30 employees, Mittelman said, including five full-time genealogy researchers, and will soon move to a new building, with a lab four times the size of current sound. .
Othram’s pitch is simple: Government labs don’t have the expensive equipment needed to process DNA evidence – cigarette butts, bloodstained tissue, bones – which may be decades old, degraded or mixed with non-human materials. For the time being, private laboratories must be responsible for creating genetic profiles compatible with those generated, much more easily, from the saliva of a consumer. Then, forensic genetic genealogists must do the tedious work of sorting through third cousins and population records. Finally, another DNA test is usually needed to confirm a suspected match.
Othram wants to be the authorities’ one stop shop for the whole process. “Once they see it, they never come back,” Mr. Mittelman said.
The company created a site called DNASolves to tell the gruesome and tragic crime stories of John and Jane Does – with catchy names like ‘Christmas Tree Lady’ and ‘Baby Angel’ – to encourage people to fund budget-strapped police departments, so they can hire Othram. A competitor, Parabon NanoLabs, had created a similar site called JusticeDrive, which raised around $30,000.
In addition to the money, Othram encouraged supporters to donate their DNA, a request some critics have called unseemly, saying donors should contribute to databases readily available to all investigators.
“Some people are too nervous to put their DNA in a general database,” said Mittelman, who declined to say how big his database is. “Ours is specifically designed for law enforcement.”
Carla Davis donated her DNA, as well as that of her daughter and son-in-law. Her husband refused.