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!




NJ College Launches World’s First Investigative Genetic Genealogy Center (Forensic – 12/02/2022)

    • Ramapo College of New Jersey’s Investigative Genetic Genealogy (IGG) Center will he led by David Gurney, Ph.D., JD, and Cairenn Binder, MS. Gurney is an assistant professor of law and society at Ramapo College, and was previously a fellow with the Wrongful Conviction Clinic (now the Innocence Project of Arizona) at the University of Arizona. Binder has been with the DNA Doe Project for five years, most recently as director of education and development, and just recently founded her own company, Coast to Coast Genetic Genealogy Services with two colleagues.

      The overall vision of the new center is to “secure justice through the proficient use of IGG” to help resolve cases involving wrongful convictions, unidentified human remains, and violent crime—with a special focus on doing so in an ethical manner.



University Graduates Excel in Forensic Science Careers at Bode Technology (University of New Haven – 12/02/2022)

  • Several alumni of the University’s undergraduate and graduate programs in forensic science and graduate program in forensic technology are now applying what they learned in the classroom to their work at Bode Technology, a company that specializes in DNA testing.



Woman Found Slain in 1993 is Identified Through Genetic Genealogy (The Washington Post – 12/02/2022)

  • In December 1993, a land surveyor was working in a heavily wooded area of Centreville, Va., then being converted into a Fairfax County subdivision, when he found a woman’s skeletal remains among the trees. The medical examiner determined she had been stabbed to death and had been dead for anywhere from one to six years.

    The Fairfax County homicide unit worked the case for years, just trying to figure out who the woman was. In 1999, an officer crafted a three-dimensional likeness of her face and showed it to the media, in hopes that someone would recognize her. A composite drawing was released. News conferences near the site of what is now Sharpsburg Drive were held over the years, trying to drum up leads. Nothing.

    But the rapidly evolving science of genetic genealogy has provided an answer: Sharon Kay Abbott Lane, a mother of two who was raised in northwest Indiana and had lived for a time in Big Stone Gap, Va., was the homicide victim. She would have been 34 years old in 1993, when her body was found.



Opinion: New Website May Help Wayne County Rape Kit Victims Whose DNA Kits Sat for Decades (Yahoo! News – 12/03/2022)

  • All 11,000 of the backlogged rape kits, discovered by an assistant prosecutor from Worthy’s office in a Detroit police warehouse in 2009, have now been tested, thanks to Worthy and her team, who raised the money to test each kit and investigate the crimes they represent. They’ve closed more than 4,800 of these cases, identifying 841 serial offenders and winning 239 convictions, largely without the benefit of public dollars.

    But there’s more work to do: There are roughly 1,200 kits in which investigators were able to identify DNA evidence, but found no match in the federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). There are more than 5,000 kits without DNA evidence, or without sufficient DNA to make a clear match. Some cases have hit the statute of limitations, a complicated calculation that doesn’t always prohibit prosecution. Sometimes, survivors are simply hard to reach; telephone numbers and addresses change.


DNA Analysis of Soil from Paw Prints Could Help Save Sumatra’s Tigers (CNN – 12/05/2022)

    • Dr. Mrinalini Watsa, a researcher at San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance in California, scoops up soil from a fresh paw print made by Rakan, a 4-year-old male Sumatran tiger who lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and secures it in a specimen jar.

      Back in her lab, Watsa analyzes the sample using a small electrophoresis device that’s connected to a smartphone. Jackpot. She’s able to detect Rakan’s DNA in the soil.

      The proof of concept experiment is part of her work adapting existing genome-sequencing technology so it can be easily used to detect individual tigers in the wild using their DNA. Watsa hopes the application will make it easier to track Rakan’s wild counterparts in Sumatra, Indonesia’s biggest island, and tiger populations across the rest of Asia.


Utah’s DNA and Genealogy Expertise Tapped to Help ID Tulsa Race Massacre Victims (KUER 90.1 – 12/06/2022)

    • Scientists in Utah are part of an effort to identify victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

      In 1921, a white mob targeted Black people, burning more than a thousand homes and looting hundreds. Historians think as many as 300 died and some may be buried at Oaklawn Cemetery, Tulsa’s oldest existing cemetery.

      Utah’s Intermountain Forensics, located in Salt Lake City, is processing DNA samples from unmarked graves there. The company is the only accredited private lab in the country that does whole genome sequencing for forensic work.

      Alison Wilde, the Genealogy Case Manager for the 1921 Tulsa Project, said DNA is crucial to identifying victims.


The Slow But Steady March Towards a More Reliable Forensic Science (National Institute of Justice – 12/07/2022)

    • The efforts to improve forensic science have been significant and ongoing since the National Research Council report, but has the problem been solved? Does the forensic testimony now introduced in court rest on solid scientific ground?

      Those questions imply that there is an end point to the effort to improve the science underlying forensics, said David Stoney, a leading forensic science researcher and former director of forensic sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago. “There isn’t an end point,” he said. “When we look at what we’re doing and say we’re not there yet, it suggests that things were bad and that there is a better place we want to get to, and then we’ll be done. I don’t think that is right.”



Oldest DNA Reveals Life in Greenland 2 Million Years Ago (NBC News – 12/07/2022)

    • Scientists discovered the oldest known DNA and used it to reveal what life was like 2 million years ago in the northern tip of Greenland. Today, it’s a barren Arctic desert, but back then it was a lush landscape of trees and vegetation with an array of animals, even the now extinct mastodon.

      “The study opens the door into a past that has basically been lost,” said lead author Kurt Kjær, a geologist and glacier expert at the University of Copenhagen.

      With animal fossils hard to come by, the researchers extracted environmental DNA, also known as eDNA, from soil samples. This is the genetic material that organisms shed into their surroundings — for example, through hair, waste, spit or decomposing carcasses.



Philadelphia Police are About to Identify Body of ‘Boy in the Box’ – Found More than 65 years Ago (NBC News – 12/07/2022)

    • The unidentified victim of one of America’s oldest unsolved murders is expected to be named Thursday in Philadelphia, raising hopes that the boy’s shocking 1957 slaying could someday be solved.

      Remains of a badly beaten boy, believed to be 4 to 6 years old, were wrapped in a blanket and found in a cardboard box in Philadelphia’s Fox Chase neighborhood on Feb. 25, 1957.

      And for 65 years, not only has no one ever been held accountable for the slaying, but a name has also never been attached to the victim.

      He’s simply been known as the “Boy in the Box.”

      But that’s set to change Thursday when police are expected to name the victim, thanks to breakthroughs in DNA technology, officials said.



How “Boy in the Box” Mystery will Help Solve Other Cases (CBS Philadelphia – 12/08/2022)

    • For 65 years the nation has been waiting for investigators to determine the identity of the boy who became known as America’s Unknown Child or “The Boy in the Box.” Now, we know that child was Joseph Augustus Zarelli.

      Investigators used modern forensic techniques, including forensic genetic genealogy, also known as investigative genealogy, to identify Zarelli.

      Ryan Gallagher, the unit manager for the criminalistic unit with the Philadelphia Police Department’s Office of Forensic Science, explained Thursday how this DNA processing differs from typical processing.