The interpretation of DNA evidence may rely upon the assumption that the forensic short tandem repeat (STR) profile is composed of multiple genotypes, or partial genotypes, originating from n contributors. In cases where the number of contributors (NOC) is in dispute, it may be justifiable to compute likelihood ratios that utilize different NOC parameters in the numerator and denominator, or present different likelihoods separately. Therefore, in this work, we evaluate the impact of allele dropout on estimating the NOC for simulated mixtures with up to six contributors in the presence or absence of a major contributor. These simulations demonstrate that in the presence of dropout, or with the application of an analytical threshold (AT), estimating the NOC using counting methods was unreliable for mixtures containing one or more minor contributors present at low levels. The number of misidentifications was only slightly reduced when we expand the number of STR loci from 16 to 21. In many of the simulations tested herein, the minimum and actual NOC differed by more than two, suggesting that low-template, high-order mixtures with allele counts fewer than six may be originating from as many as four-, five-, or six-persons. Thus, there is justification for the use of differing or multiple assumptions on the NOC when computing the weight of DNA evidence for low-template mixtures, particularly when the peak heights are in the vicinity of the signal threshold or allele counting methods are the mechanism by which the NOC is assessed.
Keywords: Allelic dropout; Analytical threshold; Forensic DNA; Mixture interpretation; Number of contributors.
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