2021 saw continued uncertainty, but also some return to normal. We were very excited to see around 500 of you in person in Orlando this year and were glad many of you were able to join us in the digital realm as well.
Many of you also contributed stories to the ISHI blog this year! Just like the meeting, the top blog posts reflect interest in the latest DNA technologies and techniques as well as a sense of community. Scroll below to read the top ten posts from 2021 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 2022!
DNA Doe Project is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to name the nameless – to identify John and Jane Does using investigative genetic genealogy. While the humanitarian efforts of the group are the primary focus, I am pleased to write this guest blog for our friends at ISHI to share knowledge and contribute to the field of forensic science.
In my years working with the DNA Doe Project, one conclusion has been easy to reach: families are complicated. The practice of genetic genealogy regularly reveals surprises and secrets that were easily concealed just decades ago. Many of us on the DNA Doe Project team have solved our own family mysteries and misattributed parentage events using DNA. As a result of how frequently misattributed parentage is observed in our field, it is second nature for an investigative genetic genealogist to suspect it as soon as something in a case seems “off”. One such case inspired the poster I presented at ISHI 32 in Orlando, Florida: Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: How Misattributed Parentage and Other Challenges Can Complicate Your IGG Case.
Like many teenage girls in the 1990s, Dr. Susan Walsh was fascinated by Agent Dana Scully’s work as a forensic pathologist on the television series, The X-Files. Already interested in understanding how humans work and function, watching Agent Scully use science to try to solve highly irregular cases helped to inspire Susan to pursue a degree in Biochemistry from University College in Cork, Ireland , followed by a Master’s degree in Forensic DNA Profiling at the University of Central Lancashire.
Recognizing that there was much to be gained in the field of forensics from DNA phenotyping, she wanted to research methodologies that would enable more information to be gained from the DNA taken from crime scene samples. Dr. Walsh’s earlier work was focused on using SNPs to enhance understanding of the genetics behind determination of human physical appearance and ancestry. This information can be used in a forensic casework context to provide key intelligence information such as eye, hair or skin color to law enforcement. While this information is not comprehensive, it can be used to give direction to law enforcement as an investigative lead in an otherwise tough missing persons case or in a mass disaster situation.
GEDmatch is a genetic genealogy website with over 1.4M users who want to learn more about their genetic roots. It was set up in 2010 with the mission of using science to connect people and has since been used by amateur and professional researchers and genealogists, as well as adoptees looking for their birth parents. GEDmatch users begin this process of discovery by taking a DNA test from direct to consumer (D2C) companies, like Ancestry, 23&me, My Heritage, Family Tree, and others. They upload the results of this test to GEDmatch, which allows them to compare their history with others, irrespective of which vendor they used.
Verogen was founded in August 2017 with the mission of transforming criminal justice and human identification by providing the tools necessary for genetic and biometric linkages. With its acquisition of GEDmatch in 2019, Verogen is driving the adoption of next generation sequencing (NGS) to find answers for cases that were previously unsolvable.
In this interview, we speak with Swathi Kumar, Director of Product Management at Verogen. We discuss what makes GEDmatch such a valuable and unique tool for solving cold cases and identifying John and Jane Doe remains, how Verogen is diligently working to protect the privacy of its users, and what is in store for the future of the platform.
Newly Launched G.O.L.D. Unit in Cuyahoga County Using Forensic Genetic Genealogy to Identify Most-Wanted Cold Case Rapists
written by Carol Bingham, Promega
In 2013, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office (CCPO, Ohio) launched their Sexual Assault Kit Task Force (SAKTF) to investigate leads stemming from the testing of previously unsubmitted rape kits between 1993-2011. Over the years, the Task force finalized over 7,000 investigations which resulted in indictment of 817 defendants and justice for 915 victims.
Last Fall, the CCPO was awarded a $1,000,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to be used towards personnel staffing, victim advocacy and research partnerships, training, and other resources. This grant, in combination with prior DOJ funding helped to launch the office’s Genetic Operations Linking DNA (G.O.L.D.) Unit, which will allow the CCPO to expand their efforts by utilizing forensic genetic genealogy.
To learn more about how the G.O.L.D. Unit is using forensic genetic genealogy to identify some of their most-wanted cold case rapists, we interviewed Mary Weston, Unit Supervisor of the Cold Case G.O.L.D. Unit (Genetic Operations Linking DNA) and project manager for the Cuyahoga County Sexual Assault Kit Taskforce (SAKTF). In her role, Mary oversees the unit which investigates and prosecutes sexual assaults and cold case homicides, consisting of prosecutors, investigators, victim advocates, and professional staff.
We know that it takes a special kind of person to choose forensic science as a career, and this year, we’d like to recognize a few of the students who are making a difference in the field. We’re excited to introduce this year’s ISHI Ambassadors! These students are all pursuing degrees in the field of forensics. They will be participating in this year’s 32nd International Symposium on Human Identification in Orlando. Follow Olivia, Nidhi, Amber, and Haley on social media as they share highlights from the ISHI workshops, presentations, and poster sessions.
an interview with Ed Green, University of California Santa Cruz
Throughout the years, conventional wisdom has said that rootless hair shafts do not contain DNA, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In this interview, Ed Green, Professor at the University of California Santa Cruz and co-founder of Astrea Forensics, discusses how his company is generating DNA profiles from rootless hairs and how this work is assisting forensic genetic genealogists in closing cold cases. He also talks about the case that led him to work on forensic cases, how a news story led him to work with Barbara Rae-Venter, and his latest research in comparing the genomes of humans to their Neanderthal ancestors.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has published DNA Mixture Interpretation: A Scientific Foundation Review. This draft report, which was open for public comment for 60 days before being published in final form, reviews the methods that forensic laboratories use to interpret evidence containing a mixture of DNA from two or more people.
NIST scientific foundation reviews document and evaluate the scientific basis for forensic methods. These reviews fill a need identified in a landmark 2009 study by the National Academy of Sciences, which found that many forensic disciplines lack a solid foundation in scientific research.
Nidhi Sheth is pursuing her Ph.D. at Rutgers University, working under the supervision of Dr. Catherine Grgicak in the Laboratory for Forensic Technology Development and Integration and will be representing ISHI as a Student Ambassador this year. While in the lab, she became privy to the sources of variation associated with bulk DNA mixture interpretation, and became keen to solve this issue for the most complex samples. She attributes help from her lab group and ongoing support from Dr. Grgicak for receiving a graduate research fellowship award from the National Institute of Justice. This opportunity allowed her to pursue her education and research in the field of forensic DNA analysis while working toward developing a forensically relevant single-cell pipeline. She presented this work at ISHI 32 this year.
We caught up with Nidhi and asked her to tell us a little more about herself, including how she became interested in forensic science, what she plans to do after she graduates, and what she was most looking forward to at ISHI this year.
Olivia McCarter is just 19 years old, but she’s already been a part of three forensic genealogy successes. As a freshman at the University of South Alabama, Olivia wondered where she fit in the field of forensic science and considered dropping out of school. Then she met Lee and Anthony Redgrave, founders of Redgrave Forensic Services, and was offered an internship.
Olivia had never done genealogy work before, but she poured herself into the work, even foregoing meals and sleep to give names back to those who remained unidentified. As part of the team who worked on the Christine Jessop, Delta Dawn Jane Doe, and Mississippi County John Doe cases, Olivia found what she was meant to do. While working on completing upper level courses, she had made it her mission to provide names for as many of the 40,000 unidentified remains cases in the United States as possible.
In this interview, we learn how she got her start in forensic genetic genealogy, the powerful emotions she feels when working on a case, the bond she’s formed with the team at Redgrave Forensic Services, how she’s handled all of the recent media attention, and her advice for others interested in pursuing a career in forensic genetic genealogy.
Signature Science’s Center for Advanced Genomics® (CAG) is working to identify and assess the applicability of emerging technologies and methodologies for use in forensic DNA analyses. To this end, the CAG has validated array-based SNP genotyping using the lllumina® Global Screening Array (GSA) for use on forensic samples. As the demand for forensic genetic genealogy (FGG) services has emerged since the 2018 identification of Joseph DeAngelo as the Golden State Killer, most FGG providers have outsourced cold case samples to clinical laboratories for SNP array methods but, in these testing environments, high quality and quantities of DNA are optimal. The goal of our developmental validation was to study and characterize the applicability of array-based SNP genotyping to challenging forensic sample types.
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