2022 saw even greater return to normal and we were very excited to welcome over 800 of you (including many international attendees) in person in National Harbor this year and were glad many of you were able to join us in the digital realm for our first live streamed event as well.
Many of you also contributed stories to the ISHI blog this year! Just like the meeting, this year’s top blog posts reflect interest in the latest DNA technologies (especially forensic investigative genetic genealogy) and techniques as well as a sense of community. The most highly read blogs also highlight some of the changes that were implemented this year such as our Advisory Committee and the additional of Forensic Genomics as the official journal of the conference. Scroll below to read the top ten posts from 2022 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 the new year!
Investigative genetic genealogy (IGG) has taken the forensics and law enforcement worlds by storm, closing hundreds of cases that may never have been solved otherwise. In 2019, approximately one year after IGG burst into the public eye, the Parabon team published a comprehensive paper on the current state of the art for IGG¹. Much has changed about the IGG landscape since that time, and here we update the information from that paper and cover several significant changes impacting IGG. Most notably, the 2019 paper reported 28 suspect cases that had publicly acknowledged the use of IGG for lead generation at that time. That number has now jumped to over 200, with cases being solved around the country² and around the world³
In 2018, a new technique named Joseph DeAngelo as the Golden State Killer when a small team of investigators uploaded his DNA profile into a publicly available DNA database to reverse engineer his identity based on familial relations.
As a part of his 19-year career with the FBI, from 2018 to 2021, former SA Steve Busch led the effort within the FBI to build a national program to train and equip FBI personnel to solve cases using FGG. The FGG process is legal, ethical, and extremely effective, yet it is often portrayed as invasive, erroneous and exorbitant.
Isn’t the federal government using special access and tools to look at the genomes of innocent Americans? Why aren’t there boundaries placed on this overbroad technique? Aren’t the cops going to arrest the wrong person? Don’t Americans have a right to privacy with their genetic code? DNA is different right?
In this interview, Steve shares his experience in working FGG cases within the FBI, including some of the cases that he’s worked on and how the FBI came to be the leading authority on FGG. He also busts some of the common misconceptions about the technique and describes the public response he received while actively working cases. Finally, he shares how his new company aims to make FGG more efficient, leading to cases being closed even sooner.
Prof. Katsanis explains the unique challenges that face the identification of migrants. “Remains of deceased migrants might never be found, might be scattered by animals or scorched by the sun, or otherwise be compromised,” she says. Most migrants travel without identification or with false identification. “Migrants have long been seen as the shadows in American society,” Prof. Katsanis adds, noting that political tensions at the border have increasingly demonized migrants. Unfortunately, these tensions and biases play into policies that determine the best processes for identifying migrant UHR. In some cases, DNA samples are never taken, and bodies are buried without autopsies. Even when DNA samples are obtained, they are not always analyzed for upload into CODIS, the national DNA database maintained by the FBI. The National DNA Index System, which is part of CODIS, is used extensively for missing person identification.
Further complicating the identification of migrant UHR, family members might have difficulty navigating the system to search for their loved one. They may not report the case to law enforcement or even know where to file a report. “They might not trust law enforcement with their genetic samples and might instead go to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide a DNA sample,” Prof. Katsanis says. These problems are not unique to the US-Mexico border. “How DNA data are collected, managed, protected, and shared is a problem that needs consideration across the globe.” A recent publication in Forced Migration Review provides further insight into some of these data-sharing challenges.
When it comes to policy, Prof. Katsanis would like to see advances in two areas. The first is an improved strategy for collecting family reference samples, including a common, rolling consent process, and entrusted agents trained for DNA collection outside of law enforcement. Second, she would like a comprehensive strategy to manage UHR and de-identified family reference DNA data outside CODIS. Such a policy would help develop kinship comparisons among all of the data siloed in various databases around the world.
Since its inception into criminal investigations in early 2018⁴, Forensic/Investigative Genetic Genealogy has emerged as a novel subdiscipline and become an added tool in the arsenal of forensic practitioners and investigators alike. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an interim policy for its use by Department agencies⁵, and in the same year the Scientific Working Group on DNA Analysis Methods (SWGDAM) convened an Investigative Genetic Genealogy Working Group (IGG WG) to review and report on its use in forensic casework⁶.
Due to the rapid development and implementation of FIGG into criminal investigations across the US⁷,⁸, and some internationally⁹, it became clear that there was not only a need, but a demand, for coherent instructional education in this new subdiscipline. The use of FIGG did not appear as if by magic. There were professional genealogists/investigators who had the foresight to apply genetic genealogy tools to criminal/forensic investigations e.g. Unidentified Human Remains (UHR) cases and suspect cases (i.e. violent crimes of homicide and sexual assault). Some professional genealogists possess advanced degrees in various disciplines, while some have developed their genetic genealogy knowledge on their own through self-learning. The task of self-learning through short courses, webinars, YouTube videos, seminars, and workshops can be challenging, albeit there are some excellent repositories of information in the broader genealogy community e.g. the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) Wiki.
It can be difficult however to independently navigate what skills and core competencies are essential, and what tools and standards will make your research/investigation more efficient and accurate. An intensive workshop or short course focused on FIGG can certainly provide useful guidance and training in the fundamentals of the workflow. A comprehensive and structured university program however offers a depth and breadth of education on the many components that comprise the whole process, including the many intricacies and complexities that can exist. Many advise those who wish to gain experience in FIGG to first volunteer and work on adoption and unknown parentage cases/investigations. This is undoubtedly a valuable experience to develop and hone your skills and refine your knowledge. There are many people though, who have a desire and need for coherent programs of study that deliver a structured educational model containing the required curriculum, requisite coursework, and core competencies that are necessary to become skilled in FIGG.
The ISHI planning team has expanded by six members as we’ve formed an inaugural advisory committee. The committee was formed to steer the content and format of the annual symposium to reflect the interests of the diverse stakeholders in the forensic science community.
We will be conferring with the advisory committee throughout the planning of the ISHI conference, and are grateful for the experience and expertise that they bring. Below, we introduce the six members who make up the committee and get to know them a little better.
Many branches of science, including DNA forensics, struggle with the concepts of race, ethnicity and ancestry. There are no universally accepted definitions of these terms, and confusion about their use is prevalent in science as well as outside it. This confusion is well recognized in fields such as clinical genetics, where categorizations by race, ethnicity or ancestry are used to report health data. A study that surveyed clinical genetics professionals and researchers found that a majority of respondents considered race, ethnicity and ancestry at least somewhat important for genetic testing and communicating results to patients (1). However, there was no consensus around how these parameters should be used and what information they could convey in clinical genetics. The authors noted this lack of consensus could contribute to misleading or inconclusive results when interpreting clinical genetic data, calling out the need for standardizing race, ethnicity and ancestry in clinical data collection and interpretation.
written by Regina Wells, Kentucky State Police Central Forensic Laboratory
Over the past decade a spotlight has been placed on the tens of thousands of sexual assault kits that have remained untested in evidence rooms across the country. The Kentucky State Police Laboratory identified 4800 untested sexual assault kits through an audit of law enforcement agencies in the Commonwealth. This discovery prompted the Kentucky General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 63, the SAFE Act, in the spring of 2016. This sweeping legislation addressed everything from victim’s rights to officer training to evidence preservation. One of the key points of the legislation placed timeframes on hospitals, law enforcement, and the Kentucky State Police laboratory concerning the handling of sexual assault kits. Requirements for the laboratory meant by July of 2020 the average turnaround time for sexual assault kit results would need to be 60 days. With this requirement in mind in December of 2018, the KSP laboratory launched a pilot project in conjunction with the ANDE company to evaluate sexual assault kit evidence using the ANDE 6C Rapid DNA instrument.
The ANDE 6C Rapid DNA system can analyze an evidence sample in under two hours however sexual assault kits are challenging due to mixtures of the victim and suspect’s DNA. A pre-treatment step was developed by ANDE to separate the suspect DNA in sperm cells from the victim’s DNA providing clean suspect profiles which can be searched against a database. The purpose of this study was to determine if this procedure could produce a searchable suspect profile using actual evidence samples collected during a forensic sexual assault exam. Suspect profiles obtained would then be searched against a copy of the state database to determine if a hit could be obtained between the evidence profile and an offender. This would provide an officer with an investigative lead in the early stages of the investigation rather than months after the assault.
“ISHI is about facilitating collaboration to advance forensic DNA science. We are excited to partner with Forensic Genomics as the official journal of ISHI to provide attendees with a new way to learn about and apply the latest technologies and groundbreaking research to the vital work they perform.” says Carol Bingham, Symposium Manager.
Forensic Genomics is a new peer-reviewed journal that addresses how advances in genetic testing and genomic analysis can enable investigators to break through previously impenetrable forensic DNA barriers. Led by Editor-in-Chief David Mittelman, PhD, Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Othram, Inc., the journal focuses on the use of DNA testing technologies, algorithms, artificial intelligence, and genealogical research methods to support human identification using inference tools and inductive reasoning. Forensic Genomics aims to accelerate the validation and adoption of new methods to support investigations that would be otherwise stalled with traditional testing methods. View past issues on their website.
written by Sophie Mancha, former intern with Promega
Whether you are applying for a scholarship or trying to land a position in a research lab, there are plenty of decisions to make. Arguably, the most critical consideration is what documents to include to showcase that you are the right person for the job. Specifically, should you be preparing a curriculum vitae (CV) or a resume? What exactly is the difference?
You should start by thinking about the field you are applying to. Is it academia or industry? Both have significant differences, therefore the resume or CV you are preparing will have different objectives. For example, academia is driven by research, discovery and being independent, whereas industry usually depends on team collaborations, is more business-oriented and is focused on product development with strict timelines. Of course, these generalizations vary for each position, but understanding the field you are applying to will help you narrow the motivation of your application documents.
An unknown homicide victim had been tortured, mutilated, and shot twice before being dumped into an abandoned 6-foot-deep septic tank earning him the moniker “Septic Tank Sam”. Due to the condition of his remains, he went unidentified for over 40 years, but is now known to be Gordon Edwin Sanderson of Edmonton, Canada.
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