Under the Microscope – Sylvain Hubac

The ISHI agenda is live and includes great talks from amazing speakers! While the forensic community is a tight-knit group, we can always get a little closer, right? With that in mind, we interviewed our speakers to preview their presentations and to get to know them a little better outside of their work. We’ve been posting their responses in a feature we like to call Under the Microscope.





Today, we’re chatting with Sylvain Hubac, who will be presenting Bastille Day Killings in the French Rivera: How the Forensic Task Force of the Gendarmerie Identified Victims in Two Days Using an Innovative High Throughput Fast Analysis Mobile Lab during the General Sessions on Tuesday, October 3rd.


Can you explain how a mobile DNA lab operates? What are its limitations compared to a traditional DNA lab?

The mobile DNA lab operates as a fully autonomous unit using a specific workflow with traditional analytical equipments. For the van version, the analyzes are limited to devices used for direct DNA amplification after collection like FTA/Nucleic Card for reference samples and MicroFLOQ Direct swab for DVI and casework samples. For the truck and shelter versions, there is a not limitation compared to a traditional DNA lab.


How long has the mobile lab been in operation?

The mobile lab is certified since 6th January 2016 by the French ministry of justice.


What types of situations warrant the use of a mobile DNA lab?

The mobile DNA lab is manly employed in DVI situations, complex crime scene like terrorist attack, real time DNA database screening in border immigration control situations, and in each situation where the time for obtain DNA results is crucial for the success of the police investigations (for example when it’s difficult to access at the crime scene (mountain, sea, desert, NRBC disaster) and situations where it’s difficult to send easily and quickly the samples to a traditional DNA lab).


Performing 200 DNA analyses in only 2 days sounds like an incredible challenge! Is there a certain process that was implemented in order to accomplish this?

Yes, there is a specific process for saving time compared to a traditional workflow. The DNA collection is done using devices compatible with direct DNA amplification to skip the DNA extraction step: FTA/Nucleic card and MicroFLOQ Direct, a specific micro swab patented by the French Gendarmerie and produced by COPAN Company. The DNA amplification is done in 96 wells microplates already pre-filled with PCR master mix (GlobalFiler). We used standard thermalcycler (Veriti) and protocol for the PCR step. The genotyping step is done in 96 wells microplates already pre-filled with genotyping mix using a standard CE (3500 XL) customized to enable his transport outside a traditional Lab.


What do you feel is the biggest challenge that forensics laboratories are facing today?

In my opinion, the main goal today is obtaining a DNA result as quickly and simply as possible from the most challenging samples. The mobile DNA lab with fast and easy workflow is an alternative and a complementary solution to a traditional DNA lab. A mobile version can be very useful in certain situations (DVI, terrorist attack, ….) for obtaining DNA results in real time after collection. A mobile version can be also a better starting point than a complex traditional lab for countries that want develop their own forensic DNA capabilities.


What do you think are likely to be the most exciting developments for the industry over the next couple of years?

I think so because there is a real need not only for DNA, but also for other forensics applications (fingerprint, digital, …..). We can imagine modular structures that you can assemble together, each module being dedicated to a specific forensic application. According to this modular concept, you can provide quickly and keys in hand a customized forensic lab depending the real need and goals of the country.


What tips would you give to someone who is just starting out in the forensics field, or what’s the best advise you’ve ever received?

Just apply this quote: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” (Leonardo da Vinci), is the secret of success!


How did you become interested in forensics?

It’s like the magic potion for Obelix the Gaul (French comic’s hero): “I fell in when I was a kid” (Je suis tombé dedans quand j’étais petit)


When you’re not at work, what do you most enjoy doing?

Spending good times with family and friends.


For those who are on the fence about registering for the upcoming ISHI, please share your thoughts and reasons why they should attend.

ISHI is the most famous and the most important forensic DNA symposium in the world. If you want improve your knowledge, discover new technologies and share your experience in Forensic DNA you must attend ISHI.