20 Headlines Making News in Forensic Science During 2021

2021 was a year of ups and downs as the COVID-19 pandemic continued, but we were super excited to welcome approximately 500 people to ISHI 32 in Orlando, Florida. Forensic Genetic Genealogy continued to see numerous successes in closing both cold and doe cases. Advances in phenotyping and ancient DNA unveiled information about humanity’s past. Rapid DNA continues to become more come and proved to be invaluable in mass disasters. Throughout 2021, 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!





The Victims Left Behind by Genetic Genealogy (The Atlantic – 1/27/2021)

  • An Atlantic analysis of more than 100 cases using this powerful new policing tool found only four involving a homicide with a Black victim.


ANDE Launches Rapid DNA Booking Management Solution – First in Industry to Receive FBI Approval for Use in Booking Stations (PR Newswire – 2/08/2021)

  • ANDE Corporation, the global leader in Rapid DNA, today announced the availability of its Rapid DNA Booking Management product suite, which is available for immediate delivery. Effective February 1, 2021, ANDE received approval from the FBI for its technology to be deployed in booking stations to support processing of DNA samples from qualifying arrestees and the automatic upload and searching of these DNA IDs against the National DNA Index System (NDIS).



Researchers Identify 50 Additional Genes for Eye Color (New York Post – 3/15/2021)

  • An international team of scientists has identified 50 more genes for eye color.In a 12-page study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, researchers led by King’s College London and Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam examined the genetic analysis of almost 195,000 people from 10 populations across both Europe and Asia.



Study Provides First Evidence of DNA Collection from Air (Forensic – 3/31/2021)

  • Researchers from Queen Mary University of London have shown for the first time that animal DNA shed within the environment can be collected from the air.

    The proof-of-concept study, published in the journal PeerJ, opens up potential for new ecological, health and forensic applications of environmental DNA (eDNA), which to-date has mainly been used to survey aquatic environments.

    Living organisms such as plants and animals shed DNA into their surrounding environments as they interact with them. In recent years, eDNA has become an important tool to help scientists identify species found within different environments. However, whilst a range of environmental samples, including soil and air, have been proposed as sources of eDNA until now most studies have focused on the collection of eDNA from water.



NamUs Announces New Contractor, Sub-Contractor (Forensic – 4/02/2021)

  • A new contract to manage the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) was awarded on March 31, 2021 to North Carolina-based Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International. This will allow the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to evaluate program strengths and provide direct federal oversight, ensuring its transparency to the American taxpayer. RTI’s Center for Forensic Science has an innovative and quality-focused administrative structure that will allow it to meet diverse and growing demands. NamUs will be led by a team of highly qualified scientists who have experience serving the forensic community.



Modern Crime-Solving Methods vs. The Mystery of World War II Deaths (The New York Times – 4/06/2021)

  • DNA-based techniques that have successfully tracked down elusive serial killers may soon be used to help identify thousands of American service members “known but to God.”



New Center to Combat Global Human Trafficking (Forensic – 4/12/2021)

  • Each year, an estimated 800,000 people are trafficked globally, though the true number may be higher. In a quest to arm officials and stakeholders around the globe with more accurate and trusted data to better understand and address this global problem, the University of Georgia has established a new interdisciplinary center to combat human trafficking through research, programming and policy development.The Center on Human Trafficking Research & Outreach will be housed in the School of Social Work, and David Okech, an associate professor at the school, will serve as the center’s first director. This collaborative effort aims to identify better ways to measure the prevalence of trafficking while crafting real-world solutions to best equip nongovernmental organizations and policymakers with the tools and information they need to combat trafficking.



Shirley Ann Soosay is One of First Indigenous Peoples Does to be ID’ed by Genetic Genealogy (Forensic – 4/26/2021)

  • On April 23, 2021 the Kern County Sheriff-Coroner (KCSCO) and the DNA Doe Project (DDP) announced the identification of Kern County Jane Doe 1980 as Shirley Ann Soosay, a member of the Cree Nation. She is one of the first Indigenous Peoples Does to be identified using genetic genealogy.Soosay was found in an almond orchard near Bakersfield, California in 1980. She was an unidentified victim of suspected serial killer Wilson Chouest.



His Ship Vanished in the Arctic 176 Years Ago. DNA Has Offered a Clue. (The New York Times – 5/5/2021)

  • For the first time, researchers have identified the remains of a sailor from the doomed 1845 Franklin expedition of the fabled Northwest Passage.



GEDmatch Partners with Genetic Affairs to Offer New Tools for Users (Forensic – 5/19/2021)

  • Consumer genealogy site GEDmatch announced the release of three new tools that will enhance the experience for its 1.1 million users. The tools—Autocluster, Autopedigree and Autotree—were developed by EJ Blom of Genetic Affairs.GEDmatch allows users to upload their direct-to-consumer DNA profile information from over 20 different providers. This approach, which is unique in the genetic genealogy community, allows users to maximize the number of possible relative matches. Finding DNA matches is the first step in finding genetic relatives. The new tools will allow the user to begin the process of converting DNA match data to information and, ultimately, knowledge about a person’s relationships and family tree connections.



NIST Publishes Review of DNA Mixture Interpretation Methods (NIST – 6/09/2021)

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published DNA Mixture Interpretation: A Scientific Foundation Review. This draft report,reviews the methods that forensic laboratories use to interpret evidence containing a mixture of DNA from two or more people.NIST scientific foundation reviews document and evaluate the scientific basis for forensic methods. These reviews fill a need identified in a landmark 2009 study by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that many forensic disciplines lack a solid foundation in scientific research.

    The NIST review states that currently “there is not enough publicly available data to enable an external and independent assessment of the degree of reliability of DNA mixture interpretation practices, including the use of probabilistic genotyping software (PGS) systems.”



INTERPOL’s Global DNA Database Can ID Missing Persons through Kinship Matching (Forensic – 6/14/2021)

  • This month, INTERPOL debuted I-Familia, the first global database designed to use DNA of relatives to identify missing persons or unidentified human remains around the world.The move is significant at the international level, where it has been a trial to identify missing persons across country lines.

    “Identifying missing persons globally has always been challenging due to the lack of data exchange procedures combined with the scientific complexity of statistical interpretation,” said Arnoud Kal, senior forensic scientist at the Netherlands Forensic Institute, one of the world’s foremost forensic laboratories.

    Confirming a potential match at the international level is further complicated by the inherent genetic variation among populations across the world. However, I-Familia is unique in that it can automatically control for such differences, without requiring knowledge of the missing person’s genetic ancestry.



FBI Approves New DNA Database System to Speed Up Investigations (FOX Business – 7/08/2021)

  • The FBI has approved a new DNA database system that will expedite the process of matching various DNA samples to identities. Law enforcement booking stations will use the new Thermo Fisher Scientific database to automatically upload and process DNA samples from qualifying suspects within 90 minutes, according to a press release.



States Work to Pass Laws that Restrict DNA Testing in Criminal Investigations (California News Times – 7/16/2021)

  • In Maryland, judges need to approve practices that can only be used for serious crimes such as murder and sexual abuse. Similar legislation exists in Montana, where investigators must first obtain a search warrant approved by the judge.Similar legislation is being discussed in Utah and Washington, both of which proposed bills last year.



A 14-Year-Old Girl’s Murder Went Unsolved for 32 Years. A Lab Broke the Case Using Just 15 Human Cells. (The Washington Post – 6/26/2020)

  • The morning of June 1, 1989, was fairly normal for Stephanie Isaacson. The 14-year-old woke up, got dressed, packed her school bag and set out at about 6:30 a.m. for a walk to her Las Vegas high school, taking her usual shortcut through an empty sandlot.

    But she never made it beyond her detour. Investigators found Isaacson dead and bludgeoned by the sandlot — she had been sexually assaulted and strangled, police said. For 32 years, the case remained cold, despite failed attempts at matching the DNA found on Isaacson’s shirt. That is, until nine months ago, when a Texas lab offered to process a cold case with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department using new technology. The test would be free, thanks to a donation from an anonymous benefactor. In January, police sent the lab the remaining DNA from Isaacson’s case — the equivalent of 15 human cells.


Scientists Finish the Human Genome at Last (The New York Times – 7/26/2021)

  • The complete genome uncovered more than 100 new genes that are probably functional, and many new variants that may be linked to diseases.



Report: New DNA Technology Approved to Identify 9/11 Remains (AP News – 8/29/2021)

  • Cutting-edge DNA technology will be used to analyze the remains of more than 1,100 victims of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center that have yet to be identified.

    Newsday reported Saturday that the New York City medical examiner’s office has been approved to use the forensic method known as Next Generation Sequencing, which is already being used by the Department of Defense to identify remains from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.



Parabon Recreates Egyptian Mummy Faces from Ancient DNA (Forensic – 9/15/2021)

  • At the 32nd International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI), being held this week in Orlando, Florida, Parabon NanoLabs unveiled for the first time the predicted faces of three ancient mummies from an ancient Nile community in Egypt known as the Abusir el-Meleq. The mummy samples, estimated to be between 2,023 and 2,797 years old, were processed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Tubingen in Germany (Schuenemann et al. 2017)1. Enzymatic damage repair was performed on each sample, after which they were sequenced with a capture assay targeting 1.24 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and aligned to the human reference genome. Parabon used the resulting whole-genome sequencing data, which is publicly available in the European Nucleotide Archive (ENA), and selected three samples with the highest quality data to analyze. The company believes this is the first time comprehensive DNA phenotyping has been performed on human DNA of this age.



ID of 1961 John Doe is Oldest NCMEC Case Ever Solved by Genetic Genealogy (Forensic – 11/01/2021)

  • The Identifinders team has identified Bibb County, Alabama’s beloved 1961 John Doe as Daniel Paul ‘Danny’ Armantrout, born December 28, 1945 in Miami, Florida.

    His identity was announced live Saturday, October 30 at 7PM Central on Gray Hughes Investigates. Gray and his YouTube audience of “Freaks” generously funded the expensive and time consuming investigation that required almost a year of work to gain viable DNA for a SNP profile.

    Danny Armantrout’s identification represents the oldest case of a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children subject ever solved by genetic genealogy.



DNA Doe Project ID’s Remains from 1852 (Forensic – 12/03/2021)

  • On Nov. 15, 2021 the DNA Doe Project (DDP), in conjunction with the Hudson (Ohio) Police Department, announced the identification of remains that had been discovered in 2019 during construction of a new home in Hudson, Ohio as Richard Bunts/Bunce. These are the oldest remains DDP volunteer genealogists have identified to date using investigative genetic genealogy.

    Born in 1793, Richard Bunts/Bunce likely lived on the property where his remains were discovered. DDP researchers believe he died around 1852 in Hudson. Richard is listed in the 1850 census living with his wife Annie and numerous children, including a son Anson. On an 1856 map of Hudson there is a plot labeled “A. Bunce”; likely referring to Annie or their son Anson. By 1874 the land had been sold to a neighbor William Carter. This plot is in the approximate location where Richard was found, indicating he was probably buried on the family land.