How a new robot helps speed up DNA testing at Minnesota BCA lab

From carjackings to a record number of murders, violent crime has surged across the state over the last year. That spike has led to a 30% increase in demand for DNA testing at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

"For example, just this week, we had a very large situation in one of our northern suburbs and one of the big headlines is ‘Over 100 shots fired’…each one of those pieces of evidence represents the potential for additional information to be gleaned using DNA testing," said BCA Deputy Superintendent of Forensic Science Services Catherine Knutson.

But unlike an episode of CSI, the forensic testing done on these pieces of evidence is not immediate.

"It can be DNA, it can be firearms, it can be a latent print examination It can be all three. And it usually is, when we are dealing with violent crimes. It’s usually a multi-section response and a pretty complex examination," said Knutson.

BCA Deputy Superintendent of Forensic Science Services Catherine Knutson

The Minnesota BCA tells FOX 9 high-priority cases like homicides or ones with child victims have a turnaround time of 30 to 45 days. Robberies, assaults, and weapons cases can take between 8 to 10 months.

But now, a new robot called the Hamilton Microlab STARlet is helping to speed up that process.

The machine can process up to 70 samples at one time. In the past, scientists had to test those samples one by one. In turn, the robot cuts the DNA test processing time from five days to one day.

With their time saved, forensic scientists can focus their time and attention on other cases that need to be solved.

Hamilton Microlab STARlet

The faster DNA tests are done, the quicker arrests can be made and criminals can be taken off the streets.

"The sooner, the better and that’s really our ultimate goal…to get that critical information to the investigators as soon as we possibly can," said Knutson.

In the midst of the wave in violent crime, the Minnesota BCA is asking for more money from the state to fight it. The proposal includes money for additional forensic services, analytical support and an investigative partnership to support local law enforcement agencies.