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!




Turning the Tide on Challenging Forensic Samples with RC-PCR (BioTechniques – 8/18/2021)

  • A new form of PCR has been used to improve the library preparation for forensic DNA typing from difficult samples like touch evidence and human remains.



Illinois to Permanently Establish Forensic Science Commission (Illinois Senate Democrats – 8/20/2021)

  •  A measure sponsored by State Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D-Chicago) and State Representative Lakesia Collins (D-Chicago) to create a Forensic Science Commission was signed into law Friday. Once implemented, Illinois will join 10 other states who have a Forensic Science Commission.


Algorithm Quantifies What Experts See When They Examine Skeletons (Forensic – 8/23/2021)

  • Researchers from the Pennsylvania State University, supported by the National Institute of Justice, designed a computer program that “thinks” like an expert forensic anthropologist. Unlike its human counterparts, the algorithm is standardized and provides reproducible estimates of adult skeletal age at death that could be used as evidence in court. When tested with known-age skeletal collections, the program more accurately predicted age than traditional methods based on ilium and sacrum observations.

    The researchers say their open-access computer program and accompanying manual can be used by nearly any forensic practitioner to accurately age skeletal remains based on “yes” or “no” questions about 20 bony traits.


Denver OME Receives Full National Accreditation (Forensic – 8/23/2021)

  • The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) granted the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner (OME) full accreditation, calling it one of the best medical examiner offices in the country. The accreditation process involves a rigorous inspection of the 29,000-square-foot facility at 500 Quivas St. and a review of office practices, policies, and procedures. The overall object of accreditation is to ensure a high-caliber medicolegal death investigation system for the communities in which they operate.


So-Called ‘Junk’ DNA Plays a Key Role in Speciation (Phys Org – 8/23/2021)

  • Over a series of papers spanning several years, however, Whitehead Institute Member Yukiko Yamashita and colleagues have made the case that  DNA is not junk, but instead has an essential role in the cell: it works with cellular proteins to keep all of a cell’s individual chromosomes together in a single nucleus.

    Now, in the latest installment of their work, published online July 24 in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution, Yamashita and former postdoctoral fellow Madhav Jagannathan, currently an assistant professor at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, take these studies a step further, proposing that the system of chromosomal organization made possible by satellite DNA is one reason that organisms from different species cannot produce viable offspring.


Remains from Wilseyville Serial Murders Exhumed for DNA Analysis (Calaveras Enterprise – 8/23/2021)

  • The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office on Monday announced that their cold case team, comprised of a small group of deputies, is working directly with criminalists from the California Department of Justice and two expert forensic anthropologists to “respectfully catalog and analyze” the remains to determine their viability for DNA analysis.


Forensic Genealogy Used in Glen McCurley Case Could Help Close Thousands of Unsolved Murders (CBS DFW 11 21 – 8/24/2021)


Cold Case Team Exhumes Remains from Charles Ng, Leonard Lake Serial Murders (Forensic – 8/25/2021)

  • The Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office has a small group of deputies who, in addition to their regular duties, review and investigate unsolved cold cases. Generally, the team focuses on unsolved homicides, missing persons and unidentified remains.

    Advances in technology over the years have improved the ability to identify human remains including those previously determined to be unsuitable for DNA analysis. Recognizing these advances, the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office contacted the California Department of Justice to discuss the possibility of identifying previously unidentified human remains associated with the Charles Ng and Leonard Lake serial killings. These crimes occurred in Wilseyville (Calaveras County) and in other locations in California during the 1980’s. Discussions, meetings, and planning have occurred over the past two years, and plans were made to remove the remains from their current location and submit them to the California Department of Justice for DNA analysis.



Police Close Utah’s Oldest Missing Persons Cold Case (Forensic – 8/25/2021)

  • The Salt Lake City Police Department announced the closure of a missing persons cold case after DNA testing confirmed human remains located in Millard County, Utah belonged to Sandra Matott—who disappeared in July 1979. To date, this is the oldest missing persons cold case closed by the Salt Lake City Police Department. The Millard County Sheriff’s Office also announced the closure of its homicide investigation into Sandra Matott’s death.