The IMF team has been diligently working on the Tulsa Identification Project. We wanted to announce that we have been able to obtain enough DNA to move forward with 2 of the 14 samples thus far. We will continue to work the remaining 12 samples, but we are excited to see that we can move on to Phase 2 for these two individuals.
IMF will be very transparent in this process and we've been asked to provide updates here on our website as well. Here's where things stand as we are progressing:
Intermountain Forensics received 28 samples from the City of Tulsa and the 1921 Graves team. The samples represented 14 bodies exhumed from the archaeological work done at the Oaklawn cemetery site.
For each body, the laboratory received two submission items, a bone and various numbers of teeth. Teeth are often one of the best sources for DNA identification. They are considered by the IMF lab as very "hit and miss". When we get a result from teeth samples, they are often very positive results, but, if they "miss" we get very little to work with.
Bone, on the other hand, is much more of a long and arduous process. Bones have minimal amounts of DNA but can, in some circumstances, be more protected and less prone to degradation. We consider these samples more long term work.
Our processing is split up into three phases: Phase 1,obtain DNA and establish the quantity and quality; Phase 2, obtain a DNA genetic genealogy profile for upload to databases; and Phase 3, investigate the genealogy information obtained to establish an identity for the remains. We have reached the end of Phase 1 for the samples we have been sent.
Phase 1: Sample Pre-Processing
The samples begin with a process of mechanical pulverization to reduce the very hard, very dense material into a fine powder that works better for downstream processing. Our laboratory employs a very advanced and effective tool for this, an instrument called the Qiagen Tissuelyser II. Below is a video of the instrument in action as it does its work to prepare the samples for downstream processing.
Phase 1: DNA Extraction
The pulverized powder is now ready for DNA extraction. The samples are incubated overnight and then subjected to specific chemicals in precise timing to "pop" cells contained within the bone/teeth powder, remove the DNA from those cells and wash away all the non-DNA cellular "garbage". This process ends in a DNA extract, a very small tube with a small amount of clear liquid in it that contains the DNA we are looking for.
Phase 1: DNA Quantification
To obtain a genetic genealogy profile, even with these very difficult and limited quantity samples, we need to obtain a minimum amount to move samples forward. We have decided that any sample that exceeds .5nanograms or 500picograms of DNA we will move forward on. (IMPORTANT NOTE: that is not to say that we cannot get results lower than that and some of these samples we will absolutely move to phase 2 despite not meeting that threshold. We simply want to ensure maximum quantity and quality so we will keep working samples until we reach that threshold or the team agrees that we've obtained the maximum amount of DNA that we can and are comfortable moving them on to phase 2).
Phase 1: DNA Preservation and Storage
The DNA extracts will be stored and we will continue to add more quantity to them as we process more bone and/or teeth samples. To ensure they are well preserved and protected, we use a DNA stabilization device to ensure the samples will be viable even years or decades in the future. https://gentegra.com/gentegra-forensic/ This is an essential part of the process to ensure we can keep "building up" our DNA quantity until we hit our Phase 2 threshold.
Tulsa sample results
The Intermountain Forensics laboratory has finished processing the 14 sets of teeth and 14 bones we obtained from each individual remains.
The teeth samples yielded results. We have categorized them into tiers.
The green tier are samples that have exceeded our Phase 1 threshold and are ready to move to phase 2.
The yellow tier samples (4) are on the cusp, but we feel that more quantity would be helpful to getting a usable result.
The orange tier samples (4) are very minimal and may take substantially more processing.
The red tier samples (4) obtained no DNA and may not be viable for testing.
Unfortunately, the bone samples were found to be heavily degraded and we were not able to obtain any usable DNA from these samples. IMF will be working with the 1921 Graves team to identify more possible bone and/or teeth samples to test in future submissions. This is especially true of ALL of the 12 samples in yellow, orange and red tiers. By no means are we done working on obtaining more DNA for these individuals.
- Our laboratory is working on optimizing and implementing the best possible process for phase 2 testing for these samples. We have obtained the most robust and and powerful DNA sequencing instrument (Illumina Novaseq 6000) and we will be working the phase 2 samples in our laboratory to ensure the best potential for positive results and the best turn around time for this processing.
-When we are satisfied with the quality of the process, we will run the 2 samples prepped for phase 2 on our instrument. We will be using Whole Genome Sequencing and Bioinformatics to obtain up to 700,000 Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms that are significant to genealogy. We will go into this more in depth in future.
-We expect to run these two samples in July, but will be ABSOLUTELY certain we've got our process quality high before we attempt to run these precious sample.
-Phase 3: Genetic Genealogy investigation (upload to GEDmatch and Family Tree DNA genetic genealogy databases and subsequent investigation of the results) should begin in August/September.
-We have begun the process of reaching out to the community (see www.tulsa1921dna.org) to begin to populate these genetic genealogy databases with potential relatives from the Tulsa race massacre. We need your support, your help and your trust to make this project work!
More updates will be forthcoming on this news section of our website as well as the www.tulsa1921dna.org website as we move forward. Thank you for all of your support, donations and comments.
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