15 Headlines Making News in Forensic Science During 2017

From the signing of the Rapid DNA Act and updates on the rape kit backlog to an increased push for familial searching and a deeper look at mixture analysis software, forensic science has been top of mind in the media during 2017. Let’s take a look back on some of the biggest headlines of the year!



Dust to Dust: Scientists Find DNA of Human Ancestors in Cave Floor Dirt (NPR – 1/4/2017)

  • Imagine being able to collect the DNA of a human ancestor who’s been dead for tens of thousands of years from the dirt on the floor of a cave. Sounds fantastic, but scientists in Germany think they may be able to do just that. If they’re successful, it could open a new door into understanding the extinct relatives of humans.


Rape Kit Backlogs are ‘Patchwork’ of Progress, Producing Average of 1 CODIS Hit in 4 Kits (Forensic Magazine – 1/30/2017)

  • “It’s kind of a patchwork quilt,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation. “We still don’t know more than we know about it.”Knecht told Forensic Magazine in a phone interview about the state of the backlog at the beginning of 2017, just days into a new U.S. presidential administration.


Final Meeting of National Commission on Forensic Science ‘Reflects Back’ (Forensic Magazine – 4/10/2017)

  • The National Commission on Forensic Science was created in 2013, a partnership between the U.S. Department of Justice and forensic scientists. Its 13th meeting is underway today. Case report thoroughness and statistical statements by experts in court are on the agenda.But this will be its final meeting. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced this morning that the Trump administration is taking stock of the state of forensic science aside from the Obama-era reevaluation of the criminal justice system embodied by the NCFS.


FBI Validates STRmix for Use on Up to Five-Person Mixtures (American Security Today – 5/17/2017)

  • The FBI has published its validation of STRmix™ for use on mixtures of up to five persons, as well as across a wide range of templates and mixture ratios.

    The FBI began use of STRmix in casework in December 2015. This publication details the extensive validation work done by the FBI to underpin that casework use.

    The findings show that STRmix™, a sophisticated forensic software used by trained, experienced DNA experts to resolve mixed DNA profiles previously thought unresolvable, is sufficiently robust for implementation in forensic laboratories.


State Forensics Panel Approves use of Family DNA to Solve Crimes After Slain Jogger’s Family Pushed for the Technique (New York Daily News – 6/16/2017)

  • In a historic move that could change the face of criminal investigations, a state panel approved the use of familial DNA to solve violent crimes, officials said Friday.The State Commission on Forensic Science voted 9-2 to allow the technique to be used by law enforcement agencies across the state in felony and sex crime investigations.


Exclusive: Bone-Sniffing Dogs to Hunt for Amelia Earhart’s Remains (National Geographic – 6/21/2017)

  • In what may be the best chance yet to learn the famous aviator’s fate, forensic dogs are headed to a Pacific island to search for her bones.


Promega Achieves First Third-Party Certification of DNA Integrity (Forensic Magazine – 7/12/2017)

  • Promega announced Tuesday it was the first forensic manufacturer to achieve the ISO standard. (The ISO standard was the product of an international collaboration which included two Promega scientists and members of the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory representing the United States. Ultimately, the ISO 18385 standard was based on Australian guidelines.)


NIJ Report Outlines Best Practices for Sexual Assault Investigations, Rape Kit Processing (Forensic Magazine – 8/9/2017)

  • A multidisciplinary, victim-centered approach and standardized, efficient evidence processing in sexual assault cases are the focus of a new report by the National Institute of Justice. The report, National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits, released Tuesday, outlines 35 suggestions for laboratories and law enforcement to improve their sexual assault investigations, tackling issues such as evidence collection, storage and maintenance; backlog tracking and processing; victim advocacy and notification; and sensitivity to trauma in sexual assault victims.


Rapid DNA Act Signed into Law, Setting Target of 90 Minute CODIS Profiles (Forensic Magazine – 8/22/2017)

  • Getting a DNA profile into the national database CODIS can currently take weeks, depending on the lab, the sample and the case being investigated – meaning significant delays in honing in on the right suspect in serious crimes.The Rapid DNA Act of 2017, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Friday, proposes lowering that turnaround rate to 90 minutes or less, directly at booking stations around the country in some situations – potentially speeding up the entire genetic screening process.

With a Simple DNA Test, Family Histories Are Rewritten (New York Times – 8/28/2017)

  • Widespread DNA testing has shed light on the ancestry of millions of Americans. But these services have limitations, and the results can be uncertain.



UNT DNA Funding Returns, Resuming Search for Names of the Dead (Forensic Magazine – 8/29/2017)

  • For six months, detectives had built a backlog of bones. The death investigators accustomed to sending biological samples of the unnamed dead of America—crucial clues in homicides and unsolved deaths—to the University of North Texas Health Science Center were stopped from doing so when the program froze for lack of federal funding.But now the money has been restored, and the laboratory’s doors are open to law enforcement agencies nationwide, effective Friday.


First Female Viking Warrior Proved Through DNA (Forbes – 9/8/2017)

  • In the 1880s, a fascinating grave was discovered in the Swedish town of Birka. Chock full of weapons, gaming equipment, and two horses, the 10th century AD burial was assumed to be that of a powerful male Viking warrior. But the skeleton had some traits that suggested the person was female. A new study has revealed through DNA analysis that this powerful warrior was indeed a Viking woman.



NIST to Assess the Reliability of Forensic Methods for Analyzing DNA Mixtures (NIST – 10/3/2017)

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will undertake a study to assess the reliability of forensic methods for analyzing DNA evidence that, if misapplied, could lead to innocent people being wrongly convicted. The study will focus on DNA mixtures involving three or more people, and on very small quantities of DNA also known as touch DNA.



His Body Unearthed, Legend of Mass Murderer H.H. Holmes Persists (Chicago 5 – 11/1/2017)

  • Archaeologists at Penn Museum who exhumed his body from a suburban Philadelphia cemetery had DNA tested, but an ancestor remains unconvinced.



A DNA Revolution: Massively Parallel Sequencing (Forensic Magazine – 12/14/2017)

  • In 2015, the National Institute of Justice awarded Battelle a 19-month applied research project to evaluate the feasibility of MPS. With the overall goal to perform an objective assessment of the technology for forensic DNA testing labs, the project was split into two phases: 1) conduct the sequencing using commercially available products, and 2) evaluate and assess the fundamental elements of MPS analysis.