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!




Saplings Created from DNA of Massive Redwood Planted in Presidio (KPIX 5 – 12/13/2018)

  • A scientific breakthrough is allowing scientists to bring back ancient trees once thought to be lost forever, planting the seeds for those ancient redwoods in San Francisco’s Presidio.

    Working with the Presidio Trust, the non-profit research firm Archangel has perfected the technique of extracting DNA from those long lost trees.


What Chewed-Up Gum Reveals About Life in the Stone Age (The Atlantic – 12/14/2018)

  • No one today quite understands how they did it, but people in the Stone Age could turn ribbons of birch bark into sticky, black tar. They used this tar to make tools, fixing arrowheads onto arrows and blades onto axes. And they chewed it, as evidenced by teeth marks in some lumps.

    These unassuming lumps of chewed birch-bark tar turn out to be an extraordinary source of ancient DNA. This month, two separate research groups posted preprints describing DNA from the tar in Stone Age Scandinavia. The two papers have not yet been peer reviewed, but they are already generating excitement about what they herald.


Big Tongues and Extra Vertebrae: The Unintended Consequences of Animal Gene Editing (The Wall Street Journal – 12/14/2018)

  • Unintended effects have included enlarged rabbit tongues and extra pig vertebrae, as bioethicists warn of hubris


Overcoming DNA Degradation in Forensic Science (News Medical Life Sciences – 12/17/2018)

  • Forensic samples that have been damaged or purposefully destroyed must be repaired for analysis and use in court. Several methods exist that can repair this damage.



DNA Evidence Crucial in Two Recently Solved Sarasota Cold Cases (WWSB7 – 12/17/2018)

  • Luke Fleming was arrested using brand new DNA technologies: phenotyping and genetic genealogy. DNA found on the scene of the crime was used to create a phenotype or a picture of what the killer could possibly look like. Then genetic genealogy linked that same DNA from the scene to Fleming’s family tree, ultimately connecting him to the murder. The technology was developed just six months prior to that by Parabon NanoLabs.


Crime Solvers Embraced Genetic Genealogy (Science News – 12/17/2018)

  • In 2018, criminal investigators in the United States embraced the tool, solving decades-old cold cases and some fresh crimes. But this new type of DNA-based detective work has raised questions about genetic privacy and police procedures.


She Swiped Her Co-Worker’s Coke Can. Police Say it Cracked a 28-Year-Old Murder Case. (The Washington Post – 12/18/2018)

  • But if this anonymous woman’s freelance forensic work, pushed by a desire to do right, was the means of closing a 28-year-old cold case, it was also what threatened the prosecution’s case. For the last year, Bass’s lawyers have tussled with the state in court, arguing the DNA match to Stavik was the result of an illegal search.


Houston Forensic Science Center to Voluntarily Adopt OSAC Standards (NIST – 12/18/2018)


Get a Warrant: Researchers Demand Better DNA Protections (Forensic Magazine – 12/18/2018)


Dramatic Advances in Forensics Expose the Need for Genetic Data Legislation (The Conversation – 12/18/2018)

  • But we need to be careful how we use these new tools. If people lose trust in how DNA data is used and shared by police, it could have an adverse impact on other applications – such as medical care.

    That’s why we’re calling for a Genetic Data Protection Act to ensure people have confidence in the way their DNA is accessed and used.


Indiana Mother Reunited With Son She Gave Up for Adoption More than 60 Years Ago (RTV6 – 12/18/2018)

  • A southern Indiana man who was adopted as a newborn and spent decades looking for his birth mother is getting the best Christmas present of his life.


Florida Circuit Court Rules DNA Evidence Produced by STRmix Analysis is Admissible in First-Degree Murder Case (Cision – 12/19/2018)

  • A Florida Circuit Court has ruled that evidence produced through the use of STRmix™ – the sophisticated forensic software used to resolve mixed DNA profiles previously thought to be too complex to interpret – is admissible in Florida v. Reshaunte Jermaines Anglin (Case No. 2017-CF-7816-XX, Section F9), a 2016 case in which the defendant is charged with first-degree murder, robbery with a firearm, and evidence tampering.


Ancient DNA Can Help Bring Aboriginal Australian Ancestors Home (Science – 12/19/2018)

  • The bones of thousands upon thousands of Indigenous people sit in museums across the world. Their descendants want them back, but they must often fight for years to convince scientists the remains belong to their ancestors. And in some cases, information about where the ancestors are from has been lost. Now, a new study from Australia shows ancient DNA can reliably link Aboriginal ancestors to their living descendants, opening up the possibility of using genetics to proactively return ancient remains to their communities.


300 Uncounted Dead: 2015 Migrant Shipwreck Yields New Clues (The Washington Post – 12/20/2018)

  • Before their lives ended in an underwater deathtrap, before they lined up 100 to a row on a Libyan beach to board a boat with no anchor, the young men from the parched villages of the Sahel had names.

    Two forensic investigators, one crisscrossing Africa and another in a university laboratory in Italy, are on a quest against the odds to keep Italy’s promise to find those names. They are tracing the identities of the migrants killed when an overloaded fishing boat went down off the coast of Libya on April 18, 2015, in the Mediterranean’s deadliest shipwreck in living memory.


The Dean of UCLA Law Explains the Uncertain Future of Forensic Science (The Verge – 12/20/2018)

  • Shows like Law and Order and CSI have taught a generation of Americans that blood spatters and handwriting analysis are crucial for catching criminals. The reality, says UCLA School of Law dean Jennifer Mnookin, is that many of these so-called pattern evidencetechniques used in forensic science are faulty and not supported by evidence.