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!





How Forensic Science Solved an Outback Mystery ( – 12/12/2020)

  • It took world-leading forensic techniques to bring Old Man Spider home. Other families with missing loved ones hope a national DNA database can do the same.




DNA Profiling IDs Man Missing Since 2009 (Forensic – 12/14/2020)

  • Human remains discovered on May 23, 2009 by U.S. officials in Washington State San Juan County have now been positively identified as James Neufeld who disappeared in January 2009, last seen leaving his home in Penticton. British Columbia.



DNA Leads to Alleged Killer of Colorado Hospital Food Worker Raped, Slain in 1999, Police Say (FOX23 – 12/14/2020)

  • Watkins, 23, vanished Nov. 5, 1999, during her shift at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs. Co-workers had seen Watkins, a food services worker, going about her duties that day. Colorado Springs police detectives announced last week that after 21 years, DNA and genetic genealogy have finally cracked the case.



Methods, Software Tools, and Resources for Forensics Laboratories with DART-MS or other AI-MS Techniques (NIST – 12/14/2020)

  • With increasing backlogs and more complex samples, forensic chemistry laboratories need new technologies that rapidly provide accurate analytical results. Many laboratories are adopting Direct Analysis in Real Time Mass Spectrometry (DART-MS) to meet this need. DART-MS enables laboratories to obtain mass spectra, or molecular “fingerprints,” from samples in seconds instead of tens of minutes. Because this technique is highly sensitive, very little of the sample is handled or consumed during analysis. This reduces the risk of accidental exposure when analyzing highly toxic compounds such as fentanyl.

    We are developing a suite of methods, software tools, and resources to help forensic laboratories adopt and implement DART-MS and other ambient ionization mass spectrometry (AI-MS) techniques. These include databases, mass spectral search tools, analytical methods, and example validation documents.



Researchers Turn DNA Detectives to Aid Rhino Poaching Prosecutions with Forensic Evidence (ScienceDaily – 12/15/2020)

  • Inspired by a similar program in South Africa, PhD student and senior research fellow Tista Ghosh, along with Dr Samrat Mondol (WII) and Amit Sharma (WWF India), collected dung from 749 rhinoceros to gather vital genetic information. By analysing dung for traces of population specific genetic signals, a genetic baseline was created for rhinoceros across India and 406 unique individuals were identified.

    By comparing seized rhino horn samples to these specific genetic signals, the researchers could trace the rhino back to its breeding population, thus identifying trade routes and pinpointing poaching hotspots, which are notoriously difficult for traditional law enforcement to track.



DNA is Now Solving Decades-Old Newborn Killings (Medium – 12/16/2020)



SAKI Grant Offers Tool to Help Identify Sex Offenders in Hiding (Forensic – 12/16/2020)

  • The Akron Police Department was awarded its third National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Grant in the amount of $150,000. Following City Council approval, the funds will be used over three years specifically for genetic genealogy testing of approximately 20 cases per year.



DNA from Son Links Mexican Fugitive to Deadly Stabbing of Illinois Flight Attendant in 1999 (FOX23 – 12/16/2020)

  • A Mexican fugitive tied by his son’s DNA to the 1999 stabbing death of an Illinois flight attendant sits in an American jail cell after authorities extradited him back to the U.S. last week.



How NYC’s DNA Database Helps Not Only Solve Crime, but Prevent It (New York Post – 12/16/2020)

  • The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner houses the local DNA database for the five boroughs. It operates completely independent of police and of prosecutors’ offices. In the database, samples are associated solely with a serial number: There is no information about identity, race, age or health. The information can’t be used in paternity suits or insurance claims. It exists exclusively to establish or disprove guilt.

    There is only one downside to being in the DNA database: If you commit a crime, you might get caught. The upsides to our city, however, may be even bigger than previously thought.



First Alert Investigation: How Forensic Genetic Genealogy Helped with a Green Bay Cold Case (WBAY2 – 12/16/2020)

  • A Racine County man will stand trial in Brown County for the 1986 murder of Lisa Holstead.

    After testimony from the lead detective during a preliminary hearing Wednesday, a judge determined there’s enough evidence for 65-year old Lou Griffin to go to trial.



Cops Are Getting a New Tool for Family-Tree Sleuthing (WIRED – 12/16/2020)

  • Verogen’s push into public crime labs with genetic genealogy may help solve more cold cases, but it raises concerns about DNA data collection.



Forensic Chemist’s Laser Technique Distinguishes Human and Animal Blood (NewsWise – 12/17/2020)

  • In a proof-of-concept study, Lednev, a professor in the University at Albany’s Department of Chemistry, and Ewelina Mistek-Morabito, a doctoral chemistry student in his lab, used laser technology to rapidly differentiate human blood samples from nearly a dozen animal species.