15 Headlines Making News in Forensic Science During 2015

From the rape kit backlog to RapidDNA and phenotyping, forensic science has been top of mind in the media during 2015. Let’s take a look back on some of the biggest headlines of the year!





Microbiome Fingerprints: Researchers Identify People by the Unique Combinations of Microbes Found In and On Their Bodies (The Scientist – 5/11/2015)

  • People harbor distinctive sets of microbes, the genetic signatures of which can be used to identify individuals participating in the Human Microbiome Project, according to work published today (May 11) in PNAS.


National DNA Testing Effort on Old Rape Kits Sees Success in Indicting Sexual Predators (International Business Times – 5/30/2015)

  • Hundreds — possibly thousands — of sexual predators and rapists may be prosecuted in the U.S. as new funding is spent on clearing a backlog of rape-kit tests. Across the country, state governments are making a concerted effort to finally test the DNA in thousands of rape kits that in some cases sat in police evidence rooms for years.


FBI Notifies Crime Labs of Errors Used in DNA Match Calculations Since 1999 (The Washington Post – 5/29/2015)

  • The FBI has notified crime labs across the country that it has discovered errors in data used by forensic scientists in thousands of cases to calculate the chances that DNA found at a crime scene matches a particular person, several people familiar with the issue said.


DNA Deciphers Roots of Modern Europeans (The New York Times – 6/10/2015)

  • On Wednesday in the journal Nature, two teams of scientists — one based at the University of Copenhagen and one based at Harvard University — presented the largest studies to date of ancient European DNA, extracted from 170 skeletons found in countries from Spain to Russia. Both studies indicate that today’s Europeans descend from three groups who moved into Europe at different stages of history.


Building the Face of a Criminal from DNA (BBC News – 6/18/2015)

  • The face of a killer constructed from DNA left at the scene of a crime: it sounds like science fiction. But revealing the face of a criminal based on their genes may be closer than we think.


Forensic Test Pins Down ‘Time of Death’ (BBC News – 7/2/2015)

  • Forensic researchers have developed a new method for establishing an exact time of death after as long as 10 days.


The “Baby Doe” Investigation Showcases Forensic Science at Its Purest (Huffington Post – 7/14/2015)

  • Forensic analysts from multiple disciplines are working on the Baby Doe case in an effort to provide leads as to what may have happened. One technician has generated an image of what Baby Doe’s face probably looked like, others have assessed her body for signs of trauma, and still others are doing toxicological tests for the presence of drugs or poison. And although the forensic field as a whole has come under heavy criticism lately, the type of work being done at this stage of the Baby Doe case is likely to be uncontroversial and universally appreciated.


RapidDNA Results Uploaded for First Time to United Kingdom’s National DNA Database (Business Wire – 8/11/2015)

  • IntegenX announced today that a second major national database, The National DNA Database (NDNAD), has had forensic DNA profiles uploaded from the RapidHIT® System.


Millions Earmarked to Clear ‘Disturbing’ Rape Kit Backlog (NBC News – 9/10/2015)

  • For years, they’ve been collecting dust — tens of thousands of evidence kits that could lead police to serial rapists but have never been tested.

    But now, almost $80 million is being earmarked to help clear the massive backlog and hopefully get justice for sexual assault survivors.


This Face Changes the Human Story. But How? (National Geographic – 9/10/2015)

  • Scientists have discovered a new species of human ancestor deep in a South African cave, adding a baffling new branch to the family tree.


Can You Determine Race from a Fingerprint? (Forensic Magazine – 9/29/2015)

  • For years, forensic scientists have studied differences between latent fingerprints and have used this information to identify unique patterns. Now, a new study takes a closer look at the minutiae of fingerprints and has come to an astounding conclusion: latent prints can provide clues to a person’s race.


Who Should Have Access to DNA Evidence? (The New York Times Magazine – 9/28/2015)

  • Next week, the West Virginia Supreme Court will hear a case in which 30 former prosecutors from around the country have taken the unusual step of siding with the defense. It’s a battle over a DNA test, and whether prosecutors must turn the results over to a defendant when they point to his innocence — even if he has made the decision to plead guilty.


Super-Sensitive Techniques Make DNA Evidence Lie Sometimes, Expert Says (NBC News – 10/28/2015)

  • DNA evidence once had to be taken from bodily fluids or fairly large bits of tissue. New technology means very small amounts can be picked up and amplified in a lab to get a reading, Cale noted.


UK Ministers Outline Case for Joining EU DNA Database Scheme (BBC News – 11/26/2015)

  • DNA and fingerprints held on British criminal databases could be automatically shared with other EU nations, under government proposals.


Sheriff: RCSD First in Nation to Use RapidHit DNA to put Criminal Behind Bars (The State – 12/9/2015)

  • Richland County Sheriff’s Department officials said for the first time in the country, testimony generated from DNA-identifying technology was used to put an attempted murder suspect behind bars.