15 Headlines Making News in Forensic Science During 2019 – ISHI News

Dec 24 2019

15 Headlines Making News in Forensic Science During 2019


Genetic genealogy saw numerous successes and faced challenges. Rapid DNA proved to be invaluable in mass casualty situations. Massively parallel sequencing led to a conviction for the first time, and much more. Throughout 2019, forensic science has been top of mind in the media. Let’s take a look back on some of the biggest headlines of the year!




Mitochondrial DNA can be Inherited from Fathers, Not Just Mothers (Nature – 1/14/2019)

  • A tenet of elementary biology is that mitochondria — the cell’s powerhouses — and their DNA are inherited exclusively from mothers. A provocative study suggests that fathers also occasionally contribute.


Coming to a Police Station Near You: The DNA ‘Magic Box’ (The New York Times – 1/21/2019)

  • With Rapid DNA machines, genetic fingerprinting could become as routine as the old-fashioned kind. But forensic experts see a potential for misuse.


F.B.I. Hopes Samuel Little’s Drawings Will Help Identify His Murder Victims (The New York Times – 2/13/2019)

  • The F.B.I. says Samuel Little, now 78 and serving consecutive life sentences for three murders in Los Angeles in the 1980s, has confessed to 93 murders across the country. He targeted marginalized women, including prostitutes and addicts, whose deaths sometimes went uninvestigated, the agency said.


Nationwide DNA Testing Backlog Has Nearly Doubled, Despite $1 Billion in Federal Funding (Boston Globe – 3/23/2019)

  • For 15 years, the Justice Department has tried to reduce the backlog of crime scene DNA samples awaiting testing at state and local crime labs. But despite about $1 billion in federal spending to cut the number of untested cases, the number has grown by 85 percent in the past six years, according to a Government Accountability Office report.


Adoption and Sperm and Egg Donations are No Longer Anonymous (Forbes – 4/7/2019)

  • For over a century parents had the option of placing a child for adoption anonymously – meaning that the child and adoptive family had little or no information about the biological parents, and few, if any, means to contact each other in the future.  But the advent of widespread direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing and the creation of ‘family matching’ databases has forever torn off the seal of confidential adoptions.


The Women Who Pioneered the Use of DNA Websites to Unlock Cold Cases (Independent – 5/12/2019)

  • Many have called it a revolutionary new technology. But credit for this method largely belongs to a number of mostly female, mostly retired family history lovers who tried for years to persuade law enforcement officials that their techniques could be used for more than locating the biological parents of adoptees.


How a DNA Database’s New Policy is Changing Police Access and Could Hinder Solving Cold Cases (ABC News – 5/22/2019)

  • A change to GEDmatch, a third-party genealogy site that’s helped crack cold cases through user’s DNA, may hinder law enforcement’s ability to use the database to catch killers.

    Now, GEDmatch participants will have to upload their personal DNA to the database and manually “opt in” if they want law enforcement to have access to their information, co-founder Curtis Rogers told ABC News on Tuesday. Users will no longer be “opted in” automatically.


First Criminal Conviction Secured with Next-Gen Forensic DNA Technology (Business Wire – 6/4/2019)

  • The defendant in the case was initially acquitted of sexual assault charges due to inconclusive DNA results generated with older technology. The prosecutor was granted an appeal, however, that allowed re-testing of the remaining biological evidence with contemporary MPS methods. The additional testing, conducted by Dutch forensic experts at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) using the MiSeq® sequencing system, yielded “highly informative DNA profiles,” according to Professor Peter de Knijff at LUMC.


Genealogy Sites Have Helped Identify Suspects. Now They’ve Helped Convict One. (The New York Times – 7/1/2019)

  • A new forensic technique sailed through its first test in court, leading to a guilty verdict. But beyond the courtroom, a battle over privacy is intensifying.



Why This Scientist Keeps Receiving Packages of Serial Killer’s Hair (The New York Times – 9/16/2019)

  • Getting sufficient DNA out of a rootless hair has long been considered impossible. A scientist, better known for work with ancient fossils, has figured it out. It’s a game-changer for crime and surveillance.



Justice Department Lays Out Rules for Using Genealogy Sites to Solve Cold Cases (C|Net – 9/25/2019)

  • The Department of Justice on Tuesday outlined a new interim policy regarding forensic genetic genealogy, an investigative method that involves using DNA and information on genealogy websites to help find unknown criminal suspects in cold cases, as well as identify the remains of homicide victims. The interim policy is designed to balance the department’s goal of solving violent crimes with the public interest in privacy and civil liberties.


Police Were Cracking Cold Cases with a DNA Website. Then the Fine Print Changed. (NBC News – 10/23/2019)

  • In April 2018, California authorities revealed that they’d used a novel investigative technique to arrest a man they called the Golden State Killer, a serial murderer who’d escaped capture for decades.

    For the first time, police had submitted DNA from a crime scene into a consumer DNA database, where information about distant relatives helped them identify a suspect.

    The announcement kindled a revolution in forensics that has since helped solve more than 50 rapes and homicides in 29 states.

    But earlier this year, that online database changed its privacy policy to restrict law enforcement searches, and since then, these cold cases have become much harder to crack. The change is allowing some criminals who could be identified and caught to remain undetected and unpunished, authorities say.


Utah Cold Case Coalition Announces First U.S. Nonprofit Forensics Lab (DeseretNews – 11/4/2019)

  • The Utah Cold Case Coalition announced Monday it is building the first nonprofit forensic lab in the nation.

    “This is going to revolutionize DNA testing in cold case and homicides throughout the U.S.,” said coalition co-founder Karra Porter.


Your DNA Profile is Private? A Florida Judge Just Said Otherwise (The New York Times – 11/5/2019)

  • Privacy experts say a warrant granted in Florida could set a precedent, opening up all consumer DNA sites to law enforcement agencies across the country.


A DNA Firm That Caters to Police Just Bought a Genealogy Site (WIRED – 12/9/2019)

  • In 2018, GEDmatch played a key role in reopening the 40-year-old Golden State Killer case. Now a company that serves law enforcement is gobbling it up.