Dr. Tim McMahon

Director of the Department of Defense DNA Operations
Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) and Armed Forces Repository of Specimen SAmples for the Identification of Remains (AFRSSIr)

Category of Humanitarian Benefit: Disaster Relief and Recovery

Short Biography/Background of the Nominee: Dr. McMahon earned his BS in Biological Sciences at Florida Institute of Technology in 1991. He then earned a Ph.D. from SUNY-Albany with a thesis entitled "Characterization of Human Cytomegalovirus Helicase-Primase Proteins". He then completed a post-doc at the New York State Department of Health. Dr. McMahon also has numerous certifications. Work experiences includes Applied Biosystems Human Identification Division and the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, where he has developed numerous methodologies for identifying human remains, specifically war dead from all over the world. This research included developing a non-chemically treatment of specimens that now has a greater than 90% success rate for generating mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequencing and over a 50% success rate for generating autosomal STR (auSTR) and male specific Y STR results. In 2016, AFMES-AFDIL became the first and only U.S. Forensic laboratory to develop and bring on line a Next Generation mtDNA sequencing protocol for chemically treated and/or highly degraded samples. Although developed initially for Korea punchbowl samples, the NGS mtDNA sequencing method has been utilized for samples from Vietnam and World War II as well. DNA results are utilized in approximately 85% of the past conflict identifications. Dr. McMahon serves as the definitive scientific expert on all Forensic DNA related issues for DoD DNA Operations and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES).

Project Name and Description: The AFMES-AFDIL is the global leader in the fields of human remains identification and employees or develops the most up to date mtDNA sequencing, auSTR, Y-STR, or Next Generation Sequencing methods to be used in past accounting as well as current day accounting efforts and is DoD’s sole DNA testing laboratory tasked with current and past conflicts human identification efforts. As the global leader and technical expert in DNA human remains testing, AFMES-AFDIL DNA testing methods and knowledge are continuously sought by other U.S. States, U.S. commercial and foreign countries DNA forensic laboratories. He has been instrumental in developing DNA identification laboratories across the globe including Vietnam and Israel.

Humanitarian Benefit: Identification of remains, especially those subject to extreme trauma or long-term environmental contamination and exposure id extremely difficult and most often does not provide results to be matched to the missing loved ones. DNA identification testing is critical for disaster relief management such as identification of victims of terror (Pentagon attack, military actions). This work brings closure to grieving family members including children who may have never met their family. Through the work of the AFMES the remains of the Vietnam Unknown Soldier entombed in Arlington National Cemetery were exhumed May 14, 1998. Based on mitochondrial DNA testing, DoD scientists identified the remains as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. It has been decided that the crypt that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown will remain vacant. The crypt cover has been replaced with one that has the inscription “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.” Hopefully in the future the bodies in the Korean and World Wars 1 and 2 may one day be identified.

Websites:

https://www.stripes.com/news/remains-from-north-korea-in-moderate-to-poor-condition-could-take-years-to-identify-1.542629

https://www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Research-and-Innovation/Armed-Forces-Medical-Examiner-System