In the case of mass disasters, missing persons and forensic caseworks, highly degraded biological samples are often encountered. It can be a challenge to analyze and interpret the DNA profiles from these samples. Here we provide a new strategy to solve the problem by taking advantage of the intrinsic structural properties of DNA. We have assessed the in vivo positions of more than 35 million putative nucleosome cores in human leukocytes using high-throughput whole genome sequencing, and identified 2,462 single nucleotide variations (SNVs), 128 insertion-deletion polymorphisms (indels). After comparing the sequence reads with 44 STR loci commonly used in forensics, five STRs (TH01, TPOX, D18S51, DYS391, and D10S1248)were matched. We compared these "nucleosome protected STRs" (NPSTRs) with five other non-NPSTRs using mini-STR primer design, real-time PCR, and capillary gel electrophoresis on artificially degraded DNA. Moreover, genotyping performance of the five NPSTRs and five non-NPSTRs was also tested with real casework samples. All results show that loci located in nucleosomes are more likely to be successfully genotyped in degraded samples. In conclusion, after further strict validation, these markers could be incorporated into future forensic and paleontology identification kits, resulting in higher discriminatory power for certain degraded sample types.
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