Crime solving Kiwi researchers collect $500,000 prize from Prime Minister

DNA-interpreting software that's helped solve crimes around the world has won New Zealand's top science award.

The Prime Minister's Science Prize has been given to a team of researchers whose software has now been used in more than 100,000 cases worldwide.

The software, named STRmix, takes forensic evidence gathered from crime scenes that often contains DNA which could prove crucial in piecing together what happened.

However, when a piece of evidence at the scene has DNA from lots of different people, it then becomes difficult to separate and decipher.

Before STRmix it often meant that evidence with mixed DNA could not be used in court.

"Before we started using STRmix, those [forensic] profiles, they're quite complex and we just weren't able to interpret them," team member Dr Jo-Anne Bright told Newshub.

 "There was a lot of wasted DNA evidence, those that we could interpret we would basically use a pen and paper and a calculator and we would do all of the calculations by hand."

STRmix software takes the mixed DNA and works out possible genotype combinations in a matter of minutes which can then be matched with potential suspects.

First used in New Zealand in 2012, it's proved so revolutionary it's now being used in 60 laboratories around the world.

"Labs have reached out to us and they're commenting that they can do more now with their crime samples than they ever have before," Ms Bright added.

That achievement was acknowledged by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

"You make us feel incredibly proud and you make us wish we worked a little bit harder in 6th form chemistry," Ms Arden said at the award's presentation ceremony.      

The STRmix team plans to re-invest the $500,000 prize in the project to keep solving crime and catching criminals.


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