Rootless hair is widely regarded as a poor source for DNA-based forensics. However, rootless hair shafts are known to contain preserved DNA that can be recovered and analyzed even after thousands of years. Ed Green and his partners have developed technology for exploiting the DNA found in rootless hair for forensic applications. In his presentation at ISHI, he will present a description of the characteristics of DNA found in rootless hair shafts. These characteristics include small fragment lengths that preclude its use in many PCR-based assays. He will describe the biological process that gives rise to these DNA fragments and describe the technology that we developed to efficiently convert these DNA fragments for direct sequencing.
We chatted with Ed to discuss when it would be advantageous to use rootless hair shafts for forensic DNA purposes and what makes his lab uniquely qualified for processing these types of samples.
Why is it commonly thought that rootless hair shafts do not include nuclear DNA?
Probably because all the forensics shows on TV say that rootless hairs don’t have DNA!
In what instances is it advantageous to use rootless hair shafts as opposed to other types of samples?
The main instance, I suppose, would be when rootless hair shafts are available and nothing else is. Hair is a fantastic repository of DNA since it’s always single-source and is insoluble.
What makes your lab uniquely qualified for processing these types of samples? How did you get started with developing this technique?
The forensic work in my lab is a natural extension of our work with DNA from ancient samples. We routinely retrieve and sequence DNA from material that is thousands of years old. DNA from hair is similar in many respects. It’s highly fragmented and available only in small quantities.
Without giving too much away, can you share any cases where these techniques led to solving a cold case?
Some of the cases where our work was used in the investigations are listed here.
Could traditional government laboratories employ these techniques as well?
That is the hope for the future.
What tips would you give to someone who is just starting out in the field of forensics, or what is the best advice that you’ve received?
If you already know the answer, don’t bother doing that experiment. Think of a better one.
Has there been anything good that came out of the pandemic that you’ll continue doing going forward?
What is your favorite Disney character and why, or which Disney character do you most relate to and why?
Queen Elsa from Frozen. I love her songs!
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
To be able to sing like Idina Menzel
What’s one thing that others may not know about you?
I think most people don’t know anything about me. One random thing is that I religiously read the local newspaper from Nashville, Georgia (The Berrien Press) – a city where my 3x great-grandfather lived but I’ve never lived myself – for reasons that don’t make sense to anybody, including me.
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