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!


This week in forensic science header

The Unclaimed Dead (The Intercept – 7/1/2017)

  • In Texas, the Bodies of Migrants Who Perished in the Desert Provide Clues to the Living.


The Race to Revive Woolly Mammoths Using Ancient DNA (CBS News – 7/1/2017)

  • Led by Dr. George Church – “the Einstein of our times,” according to author Ben Mezrich – a lab at Harvard Medical School is working on bringing back the woolly mammoth through genetic engineering.


The Justice Department is Squandering Progress in Forensic Science (The Washington Post – 7/2/2017)

  • During the past decade, thanks largely to a 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences, we have made important progress in ridding our nation’s courtrooms of such scenarios. But the Justice Department’s recent decision to not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science — the primary forum through which scientists, forensic lab technicians, lawyers and judges have worked together to guide the future of forensic science — threatens to stall and even reverse that progress.


Is it a Rhino? New DNA Test Identifies Horns Quicker to Catch Poachers (PhysOrg – 7/3/2017)

  • Kyle Ewart has developed a test that can identify whether a horn is rhino or not – fast enough to allow police to prosecute poachers, traders and customers.


DNA Used to Identify Immigrant Remains in Mexican Border (Concord Monitor – 7/5/2017)

  • Like many family members of missing immigrants, Arriaza, 45, has submitted DNA so it can be compared to remains found along the Texas-Mexico border. But while Arriaza, who lives in Philadelphia, submitted DNA to U.S. authorities, many others choose a different path that complicates potential identification of their loved ones’ remains. Many missing immigrant family members living outside the U.S., or who live in the country but fear going to authorities due to concerns about their immigration status, instead give their DNA to non-governmental organizations working on this issue.


In Neanderthal DNA, Signs of a Mysterious Human Migration (The New York Times – 7/4/2017)

  • With fossils and DNA, scientists are piecing together a picture of humanity’s beginnings, an origin story with more twists than anything you would find at the movie theater.


New Forensics Procedures at Contra Costa County Crime Lab Speed Results (East Bay Times – 7/5/2017)

  • Operational changes both inside and outside the lab have made it the envy of similar facilities around the United States, according to Forensic Services Division Chief Pamela Hofsass. “We provide accurate, real-time information,” she said.


Instant Insect Identification to Aid Forensic Entomology Investigations (Locard’s Lab – 7/6/2017)

  • During the investigation of a suspicious death, entomological (that is, insect-related) evidence may be able to provide vital clues as to when the victim died. Determining time since death, or post-mortem interval, can be one of the most important aspects of such an investigation, so it comes as no surprise that a great deal of research has been directed towards improving these estimations.


First Big Efforts to Sequence Ancient DNA Reveal How Early Humans Swept Across the Continent (Science – 7/6/2017)

  • The study of ancient human DNA has not been an equal opportunity endeavor. Early Europeans and Asians have had portions of their genomes sequenced by the hundreds over the past decade, rewriting Eurasian history in the process. But because genetic material decays rapidly in warm, moist climates, scientists had sequenced the DNA of just one ancient African. Until now.


Utah Sen. Hatch Advocates for Rapid DNA Testing at Crime Lab (KUER – 7/6/2017)

  • Senator Hatch focused specifically on the DNA analysis area. Pilar Shortsleeve is the chief forensic scientist in the crime lab. She says recent funding from the Utah legislature and Department of Public Safety allowed them to purchase new robotic tools to speed up backlogs of DNA evidence from crimes.