Lack of funding shutters Fargo DNA lab

Photo courtesy NDSU

The failure of Congress to pass an omnibus spending bill late last year is forcing a DNA lab in Fargo to shut down. The lab is one of many across the nation working to reduce a backlog of DNA for criminal investigations.

The forensic DNA lab at North Dakota State University in Fargo was designated a Forensic DNA Backlog Reduction Project lab by the Justice Department in 2009. The facility was to help process DNA cases for federal investigators in nine Midwest states.

The lab closes it's doors Friday. Director Berch Henry declined comment other than to say he's relocating to take another job. Henry says he hopes to return if funding for the Fargo lab is restored.

Built with a $3.5 million dollar federal grant in 2006, the facility earned national and international accreditation as a forensic lab.

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Dr. Philip Boudjouk Vice President for Research, Creative Activities and Technology Transfer at NDSU says the lab was dependent on Department of Justice funding for operations. Boudjouk says he's still hopeful Congress will come through with funding to restart the lab later this year.

But Boudjouk says NDSU is also actively pursuing a private sector partnership to help fund the lab operations.

The Department of Justice did not respond to an inquiry about funding for DNA backlog labs.

Federal agencies have a backlog of thousands of DNA cases as the increasing demand for DNA to solve crimes overwhelms the capacity of laboratories. The DNA case backlog is a common problem for many states as well.

The state of Minnesota has a growing backlog of Forensic DNA cases, but according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state handles all it's cases in state labs so it would not be affected by the closing of the Fargo DNA lab.