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!





“Learn without Leaving the Lab”: CFSRE Hosts 4th Annual Online Forensic Symposium Series (CISION – 12/18/2020)

  • The Center for Forensic Science Research & Education (CFSRE) and Symposium Founder/Organizer, Tom Gluodenis, PhD, announce the start of the 2021 Forensic Online Symposium series on January 18, 2021.  The first event, Current Trends in Seized Drug Analysis, is a free, weeklong program addressing cannabis, global trends and challenges of novel psychoactive substances (“designer drugs”), new methods for drug screening and identification, and portable methods for on-site drug identification.  The scientific program has been approved by the American Board of Criminalists for submission for analyst recertification credit.  Future events in the series will include Current Trends in Forensic Toxicology (May 31st – June 4th, 2021) and Current Trends in Forensic Trace Analysis (July/August 2021).




Washoe Co. Sheriff’s Office Eliminates DNA Backlog (KOLO8 – 12/18/2020)

  • Washoe Co. Sheriff Darin Balaam announced today that DNA testing backlog has been eliminated in his department.

    The Forensic Science Division, also known as the Crime Lab, has made a number of changes including outsourcing some DNA evidence analysis and altering schedules to allow the scientists to work seven days-a-week.



Beyond Borders: Connecting Female Scientists to Each Other on a Global Level (Forensic – 12/18/2020)

  • For Dr. Anna Barbaro, forensic science is in her blood. Influenced by her forensic pathologist father who, in the 1970s, founded the Italian laboratory Indagini Mediche E Forensi (SIMEF), Barbaro has long known forensic science would be part of her life.After an education and multiple degrees, Barbaro entered the industry, seeing an immediate need for community and collaboration across borders. In 2011, she founded the Worldwide Association of Women Forensic Experts (WAWFE), an international multidisciplinary organization. The group brings together experts from around the world, working in different forensic fields in public or private institutions, to promote the exchange of information and experience.



Scientists Investigate Fingerprint Detection on Biodegradable, Compostable Bags (Forensic – 12/18/2020)

  • Kevin Farrugia, senior lecturer in Forensic Chemistry, is leading a project to determine the most effective and efficient ways to identify fingermarks on the biodegradable plastic bags that are becoming increasingly popular with big-name supermarkets and shops.

    To do this, Farrugia will use a range of development techniques including one called vacuum metal deposition (VMD), one of the most powerful fingermark development techniques available.



New Research Could Lead to Better Eyewitness Recall in Criminal Investigations (Forensic – 12/18/2020)

  • From a half-hidden corner in a crowded scene, a thief emerges to snatch a purse. Three days later, can you remember what he looks like?

    That may depend upon how long after the incident you are asked about it and what you remember about the details surrounding the event, according to research published this August in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology.



Baby April’s 28-Year-Old Cold Case Solved with the Help of Genetic Genealogy Testing (KWQC6 – 12/18/2020)

  • Baby April’s 28-year-old cold case has been solved thanks to a DNA match. 47-year-old Angela Renee Siebke’s DNA was matched within Parabon Nanolab’s database of over 1-million entries.

    On April 11, 1992, a man walking his dog found the body of a full-term baby girl in a plastic bag floating along the bank of the Mississippi River in Moline. The Rock Island County Coroner identified the cause of death as suffocation asphyxiation and hypothermia. In December of 2014, the Rock Island County’s State’s Attorney filed a first-degree murder charge against an unknown woman’s DNA profile that was found at the scene, now being matched with Siebke’s.



NIST Scientific Foundation Reviews (NIST – 12/18/2020)

  • In recent years, several scientific advisory bodies [1-3] have expressed the need for scientific foundation reviews of forensic disciplines and identified NIST as an appropriate agency for conducting them. The purpose of a scientific foundation review is to identify and document information supporting methods and practices used in forensic analysis and to identify knowledge gaps where they exist. Beginning in fiscal year 2018, Congress appropriated funds for NIST to conduct scientific foundation reviews [4]. NIST has begun reviews of DNA mixture interpretation, bitemark analysis, digital evidence, and firearms examination. In addition to providing insights into these specific disciplines, the initial reviews serve as pilot studies which will guide future efforts. This document outlines NIST’s approach to conducting scientific foundation reviews, including data sources used, evaluation criteria, and expected outputs.



How DNA Techniques in Police Investigations Can Create ‘Genetic Informants’ (Stuff – 12/21/2020)

  • Rewriting the forensic rulebook could improve oversight on how police use DNA – but also open the door to techniques which raise questions around our human rights, say experts.

    A report by the Law Commission found our current system is lacking independent oversight, even from the Independent Police Conduct Authority. It called for 193 changes, including establishing an oversight committee with mandatory Māori representation, creating a single DNA databank, and regulating the use of DNA where the existing law is silent of fragmented.



Researchers Turn to STR Analysis to Fight Poaching (Forensic – 12/21/2020)

  • Researchers at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) have, for the first time, used unique DNA markers to provide forensic evidence for alleged poaching cases involving Rhinoceros unicornis.The project is part of the Rhino DNA Indexing System (RhODIS- India) conservation program. This database has been created to build a DNA catalogue of the existing Indian greater one-horned rhinoceros, Rhinoceros unicornis, to tackle rhino poaching and assist conservation efforts for this vulnerable species. 



A Non-Destructive Method for Analyzing Ancient Egyptian Embalming Materials (Forensic – 12/21/2020)

  • Ancient Egyptian mummies have many tales to tell, but unlocking their secrets without destroying delicate remains is challenging. Now, researchers reporting in ACS’ Analytical Chemistry have found a non-destructive way to analyze bitumen—the compound that gives mummies their dark color—in Ancient Egyptian embalming materials. The method provides clues to the bitumen’s geographic origin and, in one experiment, revealed that a mummy in a French museum could have been partially restored, likely by collectors.



Serbia: Exhuming the Skeletons of the Kosovo War (Balkan Transitional Justice – 12/21/2020)

  • A mass grave of suspected Kosovo war victims was found in Serbia after months of hints of a possible Belgrade-Pristina agreement to help find the remaining wartime missing persons – although political posturing on the issue continued in 2020.



No Acknowledgement, No Thanks for Rosalind Franklin Who Made the Discovery of DNA Structure Possible ( – 12/21/2020)

  • In 1962, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for their discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, the famous double helix. But their discovery was only possible following the work of a pioneer of X-ray crystallography, Rosalind Franklin. Watson and Crick worked with models and had a few possibilities for DNA. But it was a photograph taken by Rosalind Franklin that verified the double helix structure. And more, Rosalind Franklin’s experimental results were used without her knowledge, and led to published papers, acknowledgement and a Nobel Prize for Watson, Crick and Wilkins, but nothing for the scientist who made it all possible, Rosalind Franklin. Lynne Malcolm presents a portrait of the dark lady of DNA.



The Natural Detective: Meet the Forensic Ecologist Who Uses Nature to Solve Crimes (Positive.News – 12/21/2020)

  • Recording every step we take, nature is the ultimate witness to human activity. For forensic ecologist and botanist Prof Patricia Wiltshire, who analyses microscopic traces of pollen and spores, nature has been the key to solving some of the UK’s highest-profile crimes



ASPCA® Opens Veterinary Forensic Science Center to Support Animal Cruelty Cases Nationwide ( – 12/21/2020)

  • First-ever forensic laboratory for companion animals in the U.S. will offer free forensic services to assist law enforcement with investigations and prosecutions



FaSTR™ DNA Now Available Commercially to Forensic, Research Community (CISION – 12/22/2020)

  • FaSTR™ DNA, expert forensic software that rapidly analyzes DNA profiles and can assign a Number of Contributors (NoC) estimate, is now available commercially.

    The wider release of FaSTR™ DNA to the forensic and education/research community comes six months after its early phase release to select users of STRmix™, sophisticated forensic software used to resolve mixed DNA profiles previously thought to be too complex to interpret. FaSTR™ DNA seamlessly integrates with STRmix™ (when in use) for even greater speed and efficiency in analysis and interpretation of complex mixed DNA profiles.