Dec 27 2018
15 Headlines Making News in Forensic Science During 2018
From the boom of genetic genealogy and Rapid DNA to updates on the rape kit backlog, a continued push for familial searching, and privacy concerns, forensic science has been top of mind in the media during 2018. Let’s take a look back on some of the biggest headlines of the year!
Meet Cheddar Man: First Modern Britons Had Dark Skin and Blue Eyes (The Washington Post – 2/7/2018)
- A new project from London’s Natural History Museum and University College London has revealed groundbreaking DNA results that give a much clearer image of early British inhabitants. Cheddar Man’s skeleton was discovered in 1903 in Gough’s Cave, located in Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, England. It is thought that the cool temperature in the cave helped to preserve the skeleton’s valuable DNA.
“Buckskin Girl” Case: DNA Breakthrough Leads to ID of 1981 Murder Victim (CBS News – 4/12/2018)
- A body that was discovered in a ditch along an Ohio roadway 37 years ago has been identified as an Arkansas woman through the use of “revolutionary” DNA techniques. The victim had been known as the “Buckskin Girl” because of the distinctive buckskin jacket she was wearing. Her body was found in Troy in 1981.Dr. Elizabeth Murray, a forensic anthropologist with Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, said the case involved “groundbreaking” work through the nonprofit DNA Doe Project to apply genetic genealogy to the identification of unknown persons.
Five Years On, Will MIX13 DNA Study Be ‘Bombshell Paper’? (Forensic Magazine – 4/19/2018)
- John Butler, the special assistant to the Director for Forensic Science in NIST’s special programs office, told Forensic Magazine in an interview that the results of MIX13 were an inter-laboratory study. The tests, including “Case Five,” were a way to not only gauge how labs were doing with their mixtures—it was also to provide a “teaching moment.”“The mixture itself was designed to not show too many alleles,” Butler called. “People would be tricked into thinking there are only two or three people there, instead of the four people that were really there.“The way that it was designed was on purpose, to kind of help people realize that CPI can falsely include people—that was its purpose,” he added. “And it demonstrated that really nicely.”
One cannot draw real-world conclusions from Case Five, Butler added in the interview.
But some in the field have taken the results literally, and seriously.
They said the results show a huge problem exists: that casework has been inaccurate for years—with real-world consequences.
Police Used Free Genealogy Database to Track Golden State Killer Suspect, Investigator Says (CNN – 4/27/2018)
A free-to-use, publicly accessible genealogy and DNA database helped bring police a step closer to the man they believe is the Golden State Killer, a key investigator in the case told CNN.Paul Holes, a recently retired investigator with California’s Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, said he took crime-scene DNA — believed to be that of the culprit — and entered the profile into the online Florida-based GEDmatch database.
- GEDMatch is a site where people enter their own DNA profiles or genealogical data — such as those you can get from DNA tests through paid services such as Ancestry — and try to find familial matches with other users.
Familial DNA Puts Elusive Killers Behind Bars. But Only 12 States Use It. (NBC News – 4/28/2018)
Yet Arizona and California are among just 12 states that employ familial DNA in criminal cases. The practice remains so uncommon that experts aren’t sure how many detectives and prosecutors are even aware DNA can provide an indirect pathway to suspects.
Familial DNA as an investigative tool has also faced opposition from civil libertarians, who worry it will be used indiscriminately, casting unwelcome attention on the relatives of crime suspects and particularly on people of color, because of their disproportionate representation in those databases.
In many states, though, the debate over familial DNA hasn’t even begun — leaving crime fighting behind what the latest technology would allow.
Parabon, Known for Phenotyping, Announces Genealogy Service (Forensic Magazine – 5/8/2018)
- Forensic genealogy identified one of the most infamous of unidentified cold cases in American history—and caught California’s most notorious serial killer after decades on the lam. And that was just last month. Thousands of cold cases are potentially now in play, and investigators from coast to coast are curious about how the technique of searching public DNA databases could break open their toughest dead-end inquiries.Now Parabon, a company known for its composite facial images drawn from DNA profiles, is offering a new forensic genealogy service to those detectives with those nagging unfinished investigations.
Your DNA is the Next Big Privacy Battleground (NBC News – 5/22/2018)
- Are we on the verge of another Cambridge Analytica-type meltdown? Lawyer Stephen Mercer thinks so. Except this time, it’s our own DNA we should be worried about.
Should Statutes of Limitations for Rape be Abolished? (The New York Times – 6/19/2018)
- Advocates have pressed hard for the abolishment of statutes of limitations for felony sexual assaults. They argue that the statutes are archaic, built on outdated notions about sex crimes and the effects of trauma.
Giant Operation Against Wildlife Crime in 92 Countries (Forensic Magazine – 6/20/2018)
- A monthlong global operation against illegal trade in wildlife and timber has resulted in the seizure of thousands of live animals and tons of meat and ivory, international police agency Interpol announced on Wednesday.Among those arrested were flight attendants carrying turtles in their baggage and a hunter who posted his illegal trophies on social media. Some 1,400 suspects have been identified worldwide, Interpol said.The operation, codenamed Thunderstorm, involved police, customs, border, environment, wildlife and forestry agencies in 92 countries, the statement said.
A Lesser-Known DNA Test That Can Help Reunite Immigrant Parents with Detained Children (CNBC – 6/29/2019)
- Consumer DNA testing companies, including 23andMe and MyHeritage, are offering genetic kits as a way to reunite immigrant parents with detained and separated children at the border.
- Immigrant rights groups are wary of the privacy risks involved for already vulnerable communities.
- One DNA testing technology, from Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Integen X, could alleviate some of the concerns.
Forensics Help Increase Identifications of Fallen Soldiers (CBS News – 10/10/2018)
- Officials believe remains of nearly half of the 83,000 unidentified service members killed in World War II and more recent wars could be identified and returned to relatives. The modern effort to identify remains started in 1973 and was primarily based in Hawaii until a second lab was opened in 2012 at Offutt Air Force Base in the Omaha suburb of Bellevue.
- With an intensified push, the identifications climbed from 59 in 2013 to 183 last year and at least 200 and possibly a few more this year. The increase has led to a surge of long-delayed memorial services and burials across the country as families and entire communities turn out to honor those killed.
DNA Doe Project: Two Retired California Doctors Help Detectives Solve Cold Cases Using Forensic DNA (FOX 11 Los Angeles – 10/29/2018)
- Two retired doctors are using DNA and genealogy to identify victims and unmask killers from the comfort of their own homes.Colleen Fitzpatrick lives in Orange County and Margaret Press lives in Sonoma County, but the two of them are solving cold cases at an impressive rate.”You are a genealogist you are puzzling out all these relationships,” said Colleen Fitzpatrick. “It’s exciting.”
Dads (Not Just Moms) Can Pass on Mitochondrial DNA, According to Provocative New Study (Live Science – 11/27/2018)
- It’s long been thought that people inherit mitochondrial DNA — genetic material found inside cells’ mitochondria — exclusively from their mothers. But now, a provocative new study finds that, in rare cases, dads can pass on mitochondrial DNA, too.The study found evidence that 17 people from three different families appeared to inherit mitochondrial DNA from both their mother and their father. The radical findings, from researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, were then confirmed by two additional laboratories using several different testing methods.
Rapid DNA Analysis Steps in to Identify Remains of Wildfire Victims (The Scientist – 11/30/2018)
If fingerprints and dental records fail or if the remains are too damaged, DNA testing is the next step. Typically, it would take weeks to ship samples to a laboratory and conduct the analysis, but a Colorado-based company called ANDE has stepped in to help with the effort in California. The company, which usually works with the US military and the FBI, specializes in rapid DNA analysis. Since November 12, a team of 20 employees has set up camp at the coroner’s office in Sacramento to run DNA tests on samples wildfire investigators bring in. It takes less than two hours to get a read out.
‘I Wasn’t Sure We Would Ever Find Out’: How DNA, Genetic Genealogy Made 2018 The Year to Crack Cold Cases (ABC News – 12/10/2018)
- Now that genetic genealogy is in the hands of authorities, Fields, who called it “an unbelievable tool,” predicts “it’s going to be a game changer in how we do business.”
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