Identification of missing persons: The Spanish "Phoenix" program

J. A. Lorente, C. Entrala, J. C. Alvarez, B. Arce, B. Heinrichs, M. Lorente, F. Carrasco, B. Budowle, E. Villanueva

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10 Scopus citations


In 1999, Spain was the first country to officially start a National Program to try to identify cadavers and human remains which could not be identified by the use of traditional forensic approaches. This attempt is called "Phoenix Program". Two independent mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) databases were generated, which can automatically compare and match identical or similar sequences. One is the Reference Database, with mtDNA sequences from maternal relatives of missing persons, who provide the samples (buccal swabs) voluntarily; the other is the Questioned Database, comprised of mtDNA data of unknown remains and cadavers. Although the first phase of the program (typing of all unidentified human remains) will probably not be completed until December 2003, positive identifications are being made in the interim. To date, more than 1,200 families have contacted Phoenix, and at least 280 reference samples and 48 questioned evidences have been analyzed. When mtDNA matches are found, another independent analysis is performed as a part of the quality control mechanism. Once a match is confirmed (so far in 6 cases), an attempt is made to analyze short tandem repeat (STR) loci. We call for international collaboration to make this effort valuable worldwide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-270
Number of pages4
JournalCroatian Medical Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • DNA, mitochondrial
  • Fluorescent probes
  • Forensic medicine
  • Polymerase chain reaction
  • Polymorphism
  • Polymorphism, restriction fragment length
  • Spain
  • United States


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