Dec 26 2016

15 Headlines Making News in Forensic Science During 2016



From the rape kit backlog to RapidDNA and phenotyping, forensic science has been top of mind in the media during 2016. Let’s take a look back on some of the biggest headlines of the year!





DNA Blood Test Predicts Suspect’s Age (Reuters – 1/25/2016)

  • When police fail to find a DNA match to either victims or suspects, the forensic avenue of an investigation can run into the sand. But forensic biomedical scientists at the University of Leuven believe they can help.They have developed a unique test of blood samples that can predict the age of the individual concerned to within four years by examining the aging process of human DNA. A similar test they devised for teeth samples is almost as accurate.

Study to Develop New Forensic Methods for Human DNA Cases (Phys Org – 2/4/2016)

  • Sam Houston State University (SHSU) was awarded a grant from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to develop and test the best possible sample preparation methods for skeletal and decomposing human remains using emerging next generation DNA technology to help identify missing persons or victims of mass disasters.


Forensic Science Commission Urges Moratorium on “Bite Mark” Evidence in Texas Trials (Houston Chronicle – 2/12/2016)

  • Responding to the case of a Dallas man who spent about half his life in prison for a murder he probably did not commit, the Texas Forensic Science Commission on Friday asked Texas judges to institute a moratorium on the use of questionable “bite mark” evidence in criminal cases.


Justice Department Frames Expanded Review of FBI Forensic Testimony (The Washington Post – 3/21/2016)

  • The Justice Department on Monday proposed expanding its review of forensic testimony by the FBI Laboratory beyond hair matching to widely used techniques such as fingerprint examinations and bullet-tracing.


How to End an Enormous Backlog of Untested Rape Kits (Take Part – 4/25/2016)

  • Hundreds of thousands of women all over America underwent testing only to have evidence sit on shelves. Advocates say that’s got to end.


There’s 10 Trillion Microbes on You; The White House Wants to Figure Them Out (USA Today  – 5/13/2016)

  • The White House will announce a new initiative Friday to kick start research into the microbes that shape life on Earth — including those in plants, animals, water, soil and air — as part of an effort to fight disease, grow more food and even reduce the greenhouse gases fueling climate change.


How Science is Putting a New Face on Crime Solving (National Geographic – 7/2016)

  • Advances in forensics are giving us an unprecedented ability to solve cases—and exposing mistakes in some investigations.


House Committee OKs Bill Letting the FBI Use Rapid DNA Profiling (Nextgov – 7/8/2016)

  • A DNA evidence bill that would let police in the field, not just technicians in an accredited lab, quickly test the genetic material of suspects has advanced to the House floor.


Mystery Ancient Human Ancestor Found in Australasian Family Tree (Newscientist – 7/25/2016)

  • Who’s your daddy? An unknown hominin species that bred with early human ancestors when they migrated from Africa to Australasia has been identified through genome mapping of living humans.


Naming the Nameless: Experts Struggle to Identify Drowned Migrants (Reuters – 8/17/2016)

  • Teams of forensic scientists in Italy and Greece are painstakingly trying to identify the victims of drowning found at sea, washed up on shores or recovered from wrecks.

    However, there is no common practice to collect information about these deaths between states or even sometimes within the same country, and a plan by the Dutch-based International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) to start tracing lost migrants is still awaiting funding


Has DNA Met Its Match as a Forensic Tool? (The Washington Post  – 9/7/2016)

  • U.S. Energy Department scientists say a new method of analyzing genetic mutations in proteins in human hair could lead to the first forensic technique other than DNA profiling that could reliably match biological evidence to a single person with scientific precision.


Kuwait Plans to Create a Huge DNA Database of Residents and Visitors. Scientists are Appalled. (The Washington Post – 9/14/2016)

  • It sounds like an idea from a bad science-fiction novel. Kuwait is planning to build an enormous DNA database that would compile the genetic makeup not only of citizens living in the Persian Gulf state but also of other residents and even temporary visitors. Such a database would be the first of its kind in the world.


The Controversial DNA Search that Helped Nab the ‘Grim Sleeper’ in Winning Over Skeptics (Los Angeles Times – 10/25/2016)

  • Since then, familial DNA has made more modest progress than Beck predicted but has also gained wider respect. Eight other states have followed California’s lead, formally embracing the technique as a crime-fighting tool. And though many opponents still express concerns, California’s approach has won over some previous skeptics who say they are impressed with the state’s strict policies limiting its use and the measured successes.


Scrutiny Over Forensics Expands to Ballistics (Boston Globe – 10/31/2016)

  • But in real life, the scientific methods behind forensic investigations have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, a growing legal issue as defendants across the country challenge convictions based on evidence that, once considered infallible, was later determined to be erroneous.


How Forensics are Aiding the Fight Against Illegal Wildlife Trade (The Guardian – 11/9/2016)

  • From rapid genetic analysis to spectrography, high-tech advances in forensics are being used to track down and prosecute perpetrators of the illegal wildlife trade, reports Environment 360