Mark Desire estimates that his team had tried to identify the bone half a dozen times over the past 17 years — ever since it was recovered amid the rubble of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Each time, they came up short.

As part of New York City’s effort to identify the remains of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack, Mr. Desire, the assistant director of forensic biology for the city’s Medical Examiner’s office, and his colleagues had been unable to extract enough DNA from the sample to make a positive identification.

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