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'DNA vacuum' shows promise in solving difficult criminal cases

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WEST JORDAN — A new crime-fighting tool will soon be available to help law enforcement in Utah, but not in a way you might expect. It's a handheld vacuum that collects DNA evidence.

A lot of those CSI investigators are very excited about the new technology. Many of them, along with detectives from around the Wasatch Front got a look at the device in West Jordan Tuesday.

The concept is simple enough: take a vacuum, mix in some sterilized water. But the Microbial Vacuum, or M-Vac, is actually more complex than it looks — and it has crime scene investigators from across the state hoping their department will make the purchase.

"(It) provides a chance to get more DNA on our crime scenes. It's gonna be awesome," explained Alyssa McElreath, a CSI technician with the Draper Police Department.

With this, you can get so much more (DNA) with it. (It) just helps your case tremendously.

–Alyssa McElreath, Draper PD

Dozens of officers spent most of the day in a conference, learning what the M-Vac can do and seeing it work up close.

"It's easy to collect DNA if you can see it. But if you can't see it, it's not so easy," said Francine Bardole, a CSI technician with the West Jordan Police Department.

"With this, you can get so much more with it," McElreath said. "(It) just helps your case tremendously."

Wayne Carlsen is the vice president of engineering at Microbial-vac Systems Inc. (MSI), the company behind the M-Vac. He said their invention can cover more area than your traditional swabs or tape.

"It's exciting being part of something that's brand new; and they're able to collect DNA where they couldn't collect it before," Carlsen said.

He says the M-Vac has already been used successfully in a handful of Utah cases.

How it works:
The Microbial-Vaccum

The M-Vac sprays a sterile Surface Rinse Solution (SRS), under low pressure, onto any surface while simultaneously vacuuming it up along with detached and suspended microbes. The microbes and SRS accumulate in the removable collection bottle for processing.

Source: Microbial-Vacuum Systems Inc.

Sorenson Forensics in Salt Lake City has helped test the device and put it into practical use.

"You have a sort of window of time to collect evidence at a crime scene and preserve it," said Sorenson sales manager Cami Green. "So to have additional options available to them is crucial, and so important."

CSI techs here are hopeful the M-Vac will help with some of those cold cases and other crimes that may not otherwise be easy to solve.

"This is a better way of collecting DNA on some of the harder cases," Bardole said.

The M-Vac costs about $12,000, and it would cost police departments about $50 in materials to collect each sample. But the idea is that they could have it as an option, pulling it out for some of the more difficult crime scenes.


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Mike Anderson


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