2020 has been a year that no one expected and one that will be remembered for years to come. Though it’s easy to focus on the negative, there is much to celebrate as well. Many of us gained new 4-legged and 2-legged co-workers as we learned to work from home. We also found out just how important connection with others is and embraced video calls (and the work on the top, comfy on the bottom outfit). The pandemic impacted ISHI as well, and we held our first virtual conference with over 2,600 attendees from over 44 countries learning about the latest with forensic genealogy, Rapid DNA, probabilistic genotyping, and more.
Many of you also contributed stories to the ISHI blog this year! Scroll below to read the top ten posts from 2020 and subscribe to the blog at the end of the post to have future ISHI posts delivered to your email! We look forward to continuing to share actionable tips, new technologies, and announcements with you in 2021!
On April 27, 1964, a nurse came into the hospital room of Dora Fronczak, who had just given birth to her young son, Paul. She told Mrs. Fronczak that it was time to take the baby to the nursery (at that time newborns did not stay in the room with the moms), took the baby, and left. A few hours later, another nurse came into the room to take young Paul to the nursery. It was then that everyone realized a mother’s worst fear: her infant had been stolen.
As an adult, Paul Fronczak, began to suspect that the couple who raised him were not his biological parents, and in 2012 Paul underwent DNA analysis to test his suspicions. The results showed that indeed, he was not the biological son of Dora and Chester Fronczak. His next step was to enlist the help of a genetic genealogist to assist him in finding his true biological parents and his identity.
In this interview we talk to Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Tahir who began his career in the United States as a bench scientist and concluded his US career as the executive director of the Cuyahoga County Forensic Science Laboratory. In 2011 he was recruited to oversee the Punjab Forensic Science Agency where he is the Director General. The PFSA laboratory covers an area of nearly 170,000 square feet, employs approximately 1062 employees (scientific & non-scientific staff) and receives more than 100,000 cases which amounts to 1.5 Million Exhibits per year.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, processing tests quickly has become a hurdle for many municipalities, leading to backlogs. In order to efficiently process incoming tests, some states have partnered with private labs. We spoke with members of one forensic lab that is now assisting with COVID-19 testing to see what steps they took. GeneTrait Laboratories, a subsidiary of PTC Laboratories, has changed their operations to begin processing COVID-19 tests. We spoke with Kim Gorman, president of PTC Laboratories, to learn more about what was involved in this decision, the equipment necessary for testing, and additional requirements.
Athina Vidaki, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands discusses the newest technologies and techniques in forensic science. From sequencing an entire genome from just a few cells, to predicting age and appearance from blood or saliva samples, the future of forensic casework is developing rapidly.
The popularity of CSI and related television programs has catapulted forensic science into the public consciousness and has enticed many young people to consider careers in this discipline. The field is well suited to those with an aptitude for science and eye for detail. There are now scores of schools offering programs for those who want to pursue a forensic science career.
The first step for most aspiring forensic scientists is obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree from a four-year university. However, to move into leadership positions at many agencies, advanced training or degrees are required. We’ve polled several institutions that offer advanced degrees in forensic science to learn about their programs. Respondents included Duquesne University, Marshall University, Penn State University and Virginia Commonwealth University. Note- these institutions represent only a portion of the schools that offer advanced degrees in forensics.
With many travel plans being put on hold for now, let’s look ahead to the 33rd International Symposium on Human Identification, which will be held at the Gaylord National Harbor hotel, near Washington, D.C. Be sure to mark your calendars for October 31 – November 3, 2022!
Loveless’ identification is the oldest open Doe case to be closed by law enforcement using genetic genealogy. During their presentation at ISHI 31, Margaret Press and Anthony Redgrave described how anthropologists’ persistence, the Sheriff’s determination, and forensic genealogists’ tenacity culminated in a successful collaboration greater than the kept secrets of a dark, remote cave. As there was not time for them to answer all of the questions that came in during the conference, we’ve compiled them here.
For a Ph.D. student, one of the most challenging, yet underrated key steps, is choosing a research topic. We often invest in choosing a university and/or a mentor neglecting potential projects that would shape our future career. Being curious myself, (and for the irony that I don’t have a defined research topic yet), I have conducted few interviews with professors and graduate students at Florida International University enquiring about different strategies that mentors and students follow to come up with thesis ideas that turn to be the core of a 3-4 years worth of hard work.
In her poster at ISHI 30 titled I’ve Got 99 Forensic Problems from Public Perception: Secondary Transfer, Genealogy, Rapid DNA, DNA Mixtures and More, Rachel Oefelein of DNA Labs International asked the question, “As a Forensic DNA Analyst in 2019, how do we set the record straight in the media, as an expert witness in the courtroom and to victim advocates contacting us to see if we heard about some box that gives DNA results in two hours?” We interviewed Rachel to ask her about the shifts she’s seen and to discuss the responsibility forensic professionals have to educate others in the courtroom or in the media.
Laboratories can be crowded places. We are used to working around other people, tossing ideas back and forth. Dark rooms, cold rooms and large equipment spaces are often shared by several labs. Some labs have shut down completely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; others, especially those labs doing research around coronavirus biology, testing and detection and drug development are running continually. For those labs, maintaining the recommended 6-foot (2m) distance to help stem the coronavirus pandemic isn’t easy. Here are a few ways we have found to maintain critical distances in our laboratory that might help your lab group stay productive and safe too.
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