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Genetic database for identifying missing persons in El Salvador

Reunion of a young man and his mother after 35 years of separation. Credit: Pro-Búsqueda

El Salvador, like other Central American countries, has suffered from oppression and human rights abuses since the colonial era. Indeed, the country’s social injustice persisted and was a major trigger for the armed conflict of 1980-1992.


During the war, many adults and children were unidentified victims and missing, some of the latter being illegally abandoned for adoption. Despite great progress after the peace agreement to end the war in 1992, the country still faces crime and violence on a daily basis, threatening the development of the people of El Salvador. This volatile situation has led to a surge in the number of immigrants to other countries, especially the Salvadors at risk of crossing the Mexican-US border. However, until now, El Salvador did not have a complete forensic database that could assess the genetic correspondence between the body of a missing person and his relatives.

It is currently being developed by the Genomics Service of the University of Pompeu Fabra (UPF) and a team of researchers at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), a joint center of CSIC and UPF. Gene database The 400 Salvadorians who make up the most powerful tool for more accurately identifying the bodies of El Salvador and the missing persons along immigrant routes.The study was published in the journal Forensic International: Genetics..

A research team led by Ferran Casals, formerly responsible for UPF’s genomics services, and Francesc Calafell, a principal investigator at IBE, has worked with a team led by Patricia Vásquez of Asociación Pro-Búsqueda, who manages a database of genes. Profiles of relatives who continue to look for children who disappeared during armed conflict, and profiles of young people already discovered by Probaskeda.

Eduardo García, Executive Director of Pro-Búsqueda, said: “Our association was able to resolve more than 400 children who were abandoned in the context of violence. Our country identified the missing and thanks to such a project. At we have achieved that. We are beginning to see the consequences and improvements of justice and democracy, which encourages us and is very necessary. “

“This is an innovative project that has developed a pioneering application of cutting-edge nucleic acid sequencing technology in forensic genetics. In addition, interaction and collaboration with El Salvador researchers is extremely important to all involved. It was exciting and rich, “says Casals. add.

Genetic database for identifying missing persons in El Salvador

Reunion of a young man and his mother after 35 years of separation. Credit: Pro-Búsqueda

The first genetic database of the people of El Salvador

So far, no such genetic database has existed for the population of Central American countries.The new database has made it possible to characterize the diversity of population Of El Salvador to better identify the disappeared. “If the two samples match, one is missing and the other is a member of their potential family. The database is relevant to those people compared to the other populations of El Salvador. It helps to assess the probability of being in, “Calafell explains in detail. .. “In other words, finding a match for a very rare genetic mutation in the population would be more important evidence than finding a match for a very common mutation.”

The tools developed have proven to be extremely powerful and robust. “Thanks to the excellent resolution of sequenced genomic markers, and thanks to the large number of individual sequences that have been accumulated, the database goes a little further for us to not only identify parents and children, but also distant relationships. It has made it possible to identify, “adds Carafel, a professor of medical and life sciences at UPF.

The new database opens the door to identify people who have disappeared in other situations, such as immigrants (and the percentage of Salvadors) who died trying to reach the United States. The current data is unknown. However, the new tool can be used for any application in forensic genetics, such as criminal cases or identifying human bodies in situations where recovered DNA is highly degraded.

Long-term project

In 2016, the Reds Society learned about pioneering forensic genetics research to identify the remains of the Spanish Civil War mass grave, led by Ferran Casals and Francesc Carafel. This started a collaboration between Reds and Asociación Pro-Búsqueda to carry out this project. During these years, they have been supported by the Catalan Development Cooperation Agency (ACCD) and the UPF Solidària program.

Funding has made it possible to analyze and create samples Database, And a training stay at UPF’s Genomics Services for researchers at the University of El Salvador. Within the framework of these collaborations, a basic online forensic genetics course supervised by Ferran Casals has also been created and is available on the UPF Genomics Services website.


The self-centeredness of the missing person before disappearance will be used for future forensic dental identification


For more information:
Ferran Casals et al, El Salvador Forensic Population Database: 58 STRs and 94 SNPs, Forensic International: Genetics (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.fsigen.2021.102646

Courtesy of Pompeu Fabra University-Barcelona

Quote: The genetic database for identifying missing persons in El Salvador (February 14, 2022) can be found at https://phys.org/news/2022-02-genetic-database-persons-el-salvador.html. Acquired on February 14, 2022.

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Genetic database for identifying missing persons in El Salvador

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