Police to trial while-you-wait DNA tests

Police will soon have the means to grab someone's genetic sample and run it through the national DNA database while waiting in the street, if early trials by military industrial giant Lockheed Martin are successful.

Handheld genetic scanners are on the drawing board, while the first suit-case-sized prototype will be tested by police forces within the year.

The RapI.D. DNA test technology will give police unprecedented power to identify someone and check them against a criminal database.

"We expect to be able to conduct genetic ID testing in under one hour," said a spokeswoman for ZyGEM, which is producing the while-you-wait DNA test in conjunction with Lockheed Martin and with the support of the FBI.

"A DNA test today can take five to ten hours and the process involves three to five separate instruments," she said. "We have managed to miniaturise that down to a suitcase, but we aim to get it down further. We aim to have a handheld device."

Potential beta test sites were eager to receive the suitcase-sized version next year, said the spokeswoman. Police and defence agencies in the US and UK would likely conduct beta trials.

"Britain's been a leader in this whole area in the use of DNA to support the criminal justice system," she said.

The RapI.D. reader could take DNA from saliva, blood or semen samples and is anticipated to be of use in rape investigations, said the spokeswoman.

The device would later be developed for ancestry, paternity and microbial identification.