This Week in Forensic Science

No one has hours to scour the papers to keep up with the latest news, so we’ve curated the top news stories in the field of Forensic Science for this week. Here’s what you need to know to get out the door!




Revolutionary War Hero Casimir Pulaski Might Have Been a Woman or Intersex (NBC News – 4/5/2019)

  • Researchers noticed the Polish officer’s delicate bone structure after the skeleton was extracted from the Pulaski monument in Savannah, Georgia.


For Decades-Old Massacre in Guatemala, Justice Neared. Now It’s Retreating. (Washington Post – 4/5/2019)

  • Given that more than 50 former military officers and soldiers have become fugitives, Burt and other human rights experts believe that the bill is designed to allow those accused to leave prison and escape into hiding before their trials. If that’s the case, justice would never arrive for victims of the Pambach massacre.


DNA Enters Legal Maze with Potential to Solve – And Create – Privacy Problems (Arizona State University – 4/5/2019)

  • DNA’s accuracy is hard to dispute, and it has become so affordable that millions are signing up for websites like Ancestry and 23andMe with the companies’ promises to help track their pasts and see what mysteries lay ahead.

    But for every positive action or step forward, there is an equal and opposite reaction.




Ashland Lab Helps Elephant Ivory Tell Its Secrets (Mail Tribune – 4/5/2019)

  • A team of forensic wildlife investigators in Ashland is playing a key role in the prosecution of two Washington men accused of selling carvings made from elephant tusks.


Greenville Police Chief on How Genealogical DNA Technology Helped Solve Julie Valentine Case (FOX Carolina – 4/5/2019)

  • The cold case heated up when police say they found Julie Valentine’s mother, Brook Graham, and charged her with homicide by child abuse. Investigators say they used baby Valentine’s DNA to help them.


Argentine Forensic Team Strives to Identify 600 Dictatorship Victims (Buenos Aires Times – 4/6/2019)

  • World-renowned team of expert investigators launch new campaign urging relatives to come forward with blood samples, as they try to identify remaining unidentified bodies.



Figuring out the Family Tree (NewsTribune – 4/6/2019)

  • Could genetic genealogy crack La Salle County’s Jane Doe case?


Where are the Turtles? Thanks to DNA ‘Fingerprinting’, UGA Researchers Know the Answer (The Red & Black – 4/6/2019)


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.


Bill Aims to Add Felony Arrest Samples to Texas DNA Database (KBTX TV3 – 4/7/2019)

  • Texas lawmakers are considering whether to expand DNA laws and allow samples to be taken from more defendants in criminal investigations.

    Existing Texas law only mandates DNA to be collected from people charged for specific felony offenses. It was the first DNA collection law in the country.


We Tried to Find 10 BuzzFeed Employees Just Like Cops Did for The Golden State Killer (BuzzFeed – 4/9/2019)

  • The Golden State Killer case has triggered a boom in “genetic genealogy” for solving crimes. But how hard is it to find people by sleuthing in their family trees?



Genetic Astrology: When Ancient DNA Meets Ancestry Testing (CBS 13 Sacramento – 4/3/2019)

  • We’ll examine whether your DNA can actually tell you what sports you might be good at, what foods you ought to eat, and who you should date. But we’ll begin this series with one of the most popular and important questions: Can your DNA connect you with your Viking, ancient Egyptian, or “Stone Age” ancestors?



2 Women Were Killed on a Beach Vacation in 1973. A DNA Test Just Led to an Arrest. (The New York Times – 4/9/2019)

  • A cold-case squad in Virginia Beach identified Mr. Broadnax, who is in his 80s, as a suspect by using technology that did not even exist when the women, Lynn Seethaler and Janice Pietropola, both 19, were killed inside a motel cottage near the oceanfront.



New Forensic Technologies Help Solve Five Missing Persons Cases (The Journal – 4/9/2019)

  • Forensic Science Ireland developed an improved method for extracting DNA from bones, particularly if they have been recovered from seas or rivers.



How Artificial Intelligence Can Help in the Fight Against Human Trafficking (Forensic Magazine – 4/9/2019)

  • A group of computational researchers, experts in artificial intelligence (AI) and other members of the technology community is joining forces with policy experts, law enforcement officials, activists and survivors to help put the pieces together.



Illinois Innocence Project Founder Seeks ‘Conviction Integrity Unit’ (Forensic Magazine – 4/9/2019)

  • The co-founder of a group that has cleared a dozen people wrongfully convicted of crimes said Tuesday that the Illinois attorney general should create a “conviction integrity unit” to investigate innocence claims.

    Bill Clutter, a private investigator who helped create the Illinois Innocence Project in 2001 and now does similar work from Louisville, Kentucky, said he proposed the idea in a letter to Attorney General Kwame Raoul.



Kentucky Says it will be First to Use ‘Rapid DNA’ to Identify Rape Suspects Within Hours (Courier Journal – 4/10/2019)

  • Kentucky officials announced Wednesday their plan to take advantage of what’s called “rapid DNA” technology in which machines analyze a forensic sample and can produce a DNA profile within about two hours.

    The technology would more quickly identify suspects and exonerate the innocent, state police Commissioner Rick Sanders said.



Bones Discovered in an Island Cave May Be an Early Human Species (New York Times – 4/10/2019)

  • Please welcome a possible new member to our band of upright apes: Homo luzonensis, whose teeth and bones were discovered in a cave on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The remains represent a newly discovered species, scientists concluded in a report published Wednesday in the journal Nature.



Scant Amounts of DNA Reveal Conservation Clues (Phys Org – 4/10/2019)

  • The key to solving a mystery is finding the right clues. Wildlife detectives aiming to protect endangered species have long been hobbled by the near impossibility of collecting DNA samples from rare and elusive animals. Now, researchers at Stanford and the National Centre for Biological Sciences at India’s Tata Institute of Fundamental Research have developed a method for extracting genetic clues quickly and cheaply from degraded and left-behind materials, such as feces, skin or saliva, and from food products suspected of containing endangered animals.



NCMEC’s Help ID Me at 5 Years: 100 Children ID’d by Social Media (Forensic Magazine – 4/10/2019)

  • Five years ago, the Center decided it could leverage social media and online virality by creating a program called Help ID Me. The venture is directed at getting reconstructed faces, and the particulars of some of these forensic riddles, in front of millions of eyes through the power of web sharing.

    On its fifth anniversary on April 17, Help ID Me can tout some serious successes through crowdsourced sleuthing.




DNA Identifies Arkansas Homicide Victim 30 Years After Death (San Francisco Chronicle – 4/11/2019)

  • Reed’s remains were identified after researchers at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, extracted DNA from one of the victim’s bones. A DNA profile entered last month into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System was matched to Reed’s brother and daughter, who submitted DNA in 2010 hoping it could locate him.



Baby with DNA from Three People Born in Greece (The Guardian – 4/11/2019)

  • The doctors behind the treatment, from Greece and Spain, say it marks a historic advance – it is the first time an IVF technique involving DNA from three people has been used with the aim of addressing fertility problems.

    But UK experts criticised the decision to proceed with the treatment, which they said was not backed by evidence and involved unjustifiable risks.



DNA Remnants of Three Separate Denisovian Populations Found in Human Genomes (COSMOS – 4/12/2019)

  • Scientists sifting through the genomes of people scattered across the islands of south-east Asia have found echoes of ancient pairings with not just one, but three separate populations of the archaic hominins known as Denisovans.

    A new study, published in the journal Cell, also concludes that one of those populations could have survived and interbred with the ancestors of modern-day Papuans as recently as 15,000 to 30,000 years ago.