Thursday, December 13, 2007

Iris scans could be 'as common as fingerprinting'

by team UAB,JMD

It appears that this new technology is hitting stations accross the nation. However, it seems as if though it is doing just what fingerprints and DNA technologies do: identify people. The good thing about this new eye-scanning technology is that it can find matches within seconds instead of waiting weeks, even months for results. I think that this is worth putting extra money into in order to perfect the system and spread its use. It may be a little more costly than other methods, but I think that the quickness of identifying offenders far outweighs the costs. I am not advocating that we push fingerprint and DNA technology to the way-side either. Mainly because people's iris' are not left at crime scenes. However, I think that this new scanning technique will be a good way to supplement our existing techniques. Thus, making the probability of convictions even greater.

More than 2,100 departments in 27 states are taking digital pictures of eyes and storing the information in databases that can be searched later to identify a missing person or someone who uses a fake name,.

It is futuristic in nature but definitly feasible. also, it has a lot of support from law enforcement.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The First Gunshot Victim of the New World

by team ala

This article is a really great examle of how forensic techniques can be still be used on people that have been dead for hundreds of years.

Forensic scientists in Connecticut said the position of the round holes and some minuscule iron particles showed that the person most likely was shot and killed by a Spanish musket ball.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

DNA Evidence: The Savior for the Wrongly Accused

by team UAB jld

DNA evidence gives a woman back her life after spending 13 years in jail for a murder she did not commit.

A judge's decision to vacate the verdict and order a new trial made her the first woman in the U.S. to have a murder conviction overturned on the basis of DNA evidence.

Stories like this make me excited to get into this field. To have an opportunity to clear people's names and make a real difference in society. However, I can't understand why they are going to try this poor woman for second degree manslaughter after she spent 13 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. Even if she was convicted she would not spend any time in jail. It just seems like they are pouring salt on a open wound.

CT Autopsies

by team uab, db

Seems like this type of autopsy would have been put to use years ago.

"CT is a sensitive imaging tool for detecting injuries and cause of death in victims of blunt trauma," said Barry Daly, M.D.; When there are major injuries, such as those resulting from a motor vehicle accident, CT may provide enough information to enable a conventional autopsy to be avoided altogether."

What a wonderful resource to forensic pathology. These CT Autopsies could save medical examiners time on both conventional autopsies and preliminary autopsies involving gunshot wounds or suspected foul play.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Life as a Forensic Biologist

by team UAB KPF

These forensic biologists in Kentucky describe what they encounter as forensic biologist working in a state lab.

"The job consists of long hours and late nights," explained Christian. "We sometimes have to travel long distances to testify in court."

The scientists are faced with a large backlog of cases.

"The supervisor receives evidence. He or she will then assign cases," replied Christian. "An average analyst will have 50-60 cases they are working on."

This career is definitely where my interest lies! I am excited about becoming a part of a team that will help solve crimes, catch perpetrators, and identify unknown victims. Hard work and commitment are essential to doing the job well. I know that all of my classmates will be prepared for this!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

DNA Database Effective, But Not Utilized to Full Potential

By Team UAB bs

Now it seems commonplace for states to have CODIS, a DNA database for convicted felons and crime scene evidence. Too bad it's not as common to test old evidence.

"Studies of wrongful convictions suggest that there are thousands more innocent people in jails and prisons. The Innocence Project, the nation’s most prominent organization devoted to proving wrongful convictions, is pursuing 250 cases and at any given time is reviewing 6,000 to 10,000 additional cases for legal action. Approximately 1 percent of those cases will be accepted, and half of those accepted cases are closed because evidence has been lost or destroyed."

DNA from old cases where the technology was not as sensitive or perhaps not yet available should now be reviewed to see if there is a match, or not.

"In a 2005 study, a University of Michigan Law School professor, Samuel R. Gross, estimated that 340 prisoners sentenced from 1989 to 2003 had been exonerated."

That's an average of nearly 25 people per year! I realize funding is an issue, but really what's more cost effective; paying someone to work on evidence to release what would probably far exceed 25 innocent people per year, or losing years of potential freedom and settling for thousands or millions of dollars in damages once they are released.

"The most recent prisoner to be exonerated by DNA evidence was Dwayne Allen Dail, who served 18 years in North Carolina for a false conviction of child rape. Prosecutors had used the victim’s identification of Mr. Dail and hair found at the crime scene to convict him. Years later, after repeated inquires from defense lawyers, the police found a box of additional evidence in the case that contained the victim’s semen-stained nightgown. DNA analysis ruled out Mr. Dail and implicated another man. Mr. Dail was released from prison in August."

First of all, why did he need repeated inquiries? This shouldn't be so difficult. Secondly, CODIS actually matched someone else. There should be a better way to get old evidence into the system for cases where the conviction wasn't made on DNA evidence, but where it was available. Perhaps it may have been discovered that Mr. Dail wasn't a match LONG ago. By now we should have diminished the backlog of convicted felons to be put into the system. Now we need to work on the backlog of old evidence.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Everything's Virtual, Including Autopsies

by team UAB, slh

Is new science always better, or are we approaching virtual insanity?

In cases of suspicious death, the procedure does not damage or destroy key forensic evidence, as can happen during a conventional autopsy.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Drug Testing Misunderstood

by blogger jgl

This case really irks me. First off, I'll be the first to admit that mistakes can be made in labs and it is entirely possible for false positives to occur. I will feel extremely bad for this guy if it turns out the lab made a mistake. However, if a mistake does occur, "proving your innocence" through shoddy forensic science is not the right path to take. Pay attention, forensic scientists! This is a classic example of an inappropriate use of forensic science to sway public opinion.

A summary of the case is as follows: Bronco's tailback Travis Henry tested positive for THC (urine). He's "proves" his innocence by taking a lie detector test and having his hair tested for drugs.

Travis Henry has convinced coach Mike Shanahan he's not a pothead. Now he'll take his case to the NFL.

Shanahan said Henry passed a lie detector test and a recent hair sample taken from Henry came back negative for marijuana.

"If the tests were positive, Travis would not be on our football team right now," Shanahan said. "When he went back and took the hair sample and that was negative, the lie detector test and that was negative, we'll let due process take care of itself. If Travis took a test and it was positive, after what he promised me, he wouldn't be on the football team right now."

Mainly because of his attempts to prove his innocence using *science*, his coach and TV personalities (including ESPN's Michael Wilbon and Dan LeBatard) are convinced he is likely telling the truth. I don't expect these guys to know anything about drug testing, but here are the facts:

Lie detectors DO NOT WORK.
Drug testing of hair DOES NOT WORK (for the most part).

Even if hair testing did work all the time, his hair is awfully short (grown in since the last drug test). By taking these bogus tests that scientifically prove nothing, Travis Henry has tricked educated people into jumping on his bandwagon. This demonstrates something most forensic scientists know, *the public often perceives anything scientific as infallible, but can't differentiate between "good" and "bad" science.*

If he really wanted to proclaim his innocence, then he should request that the lab retest his original sample. I don't work in a workplace drug testing lab, but don't they save a portion of samples for some length of time afterwards? Is Henry claiming his sample was mixed up with someone else's? How likely is this? Oh wait, it looks like the lab does have another sample that's already been tested according to this article.

But in a battle that has reached the federal court system, Henry is attempting to block the league from testing the so-called "B-sample" necessary to confirm the positive test, claiming that NFL officials would not allow his expert to be present for the testing of his specimen.

Something doesn't smell right. Plus, I hate to use a non-scientific fact to prove a point, but Henry has tested positive for drugs before (in 2005).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lack of common sense in a murder investigation, baffling, I know.

by team UAB, db

What is wrong with people?

University of Washington student Amanda Marie Knox of Seattle is one of the three suspects in the death of her roommate. Also detained are Knox's Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, 23, and Diya "Patrick" Lumumba, 38, the owner of the pub where Knox has been working part-time. All three deny any involvement, their lawyers said.

Of course they denied involvement in a murder case, what where the Italian police expecting, a triple confession?.

The judge said Knox was hazy about the events from smoking hashish before the slaying, even though she accused Lumumba of the crime in her meetings with the prosecutors, according to the 19-page ruling.

I'm sure her memories were hazy...but wait, that's not all.

Sollecito had previously claimed he had not been at the apartment on the night of the murder, but his footprint and fingerprints were found in Kercher's blood.

Sollectico's thoughts: Damn that little thing called trace evidence!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

DNA Center Stage for Texas Cold Case

by team UAB, CHWB

How much can contamination affect DNA results? Will it be enough to provide reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors? The defense seemed to take note of OJ's defense Dream Team strategy.

"Evidence was picked up by people who had no idea DNA would be important 24 years later," Griffith said. "We wouldn't do it that way now."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Case of the Bloody Garbage Truck

by team UAB, lsw

A brief, but interesting article from Australia:

Police scientists were called in to test a large amount of blood which collected in the back of a garbage truck at Camperdown in Sydney's inner-west on Tuesday morning.

Initial tests on the blood were inconclusive, but tests eventually confirmed it was not human.

Garbage collectors had noticed the blood oozing out the back of their truck about 7am (AEST) and raised the alarm.

It's good to know that people are willing to get involved, and call the authorities, when they see something suspicious. At the same time, it also demonstrates the importance of presumptive and confirmatory tests. Something may look like blood, and may even be blood, but it may not be human blood. So where did this (non-human) blood come from? The police couldn't find any answers:

In full view of curious local residents, forensic officers spent several hours searching the truck's smelly contents for clues to the source of the blood, but found nothing.

NOTE: The above image is from a Google Images search, and is unrelated to the case.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Picric Acid, What is it good for?

found by troy m;comments by blogger jgl

There was some "old" picric acid in a forensic lab that had to be detonated. Picric acid is nasty stuff that has to be kept under liquid. Dry crystals are explosive (or something like that). I'm sure there is a legitimate reason, but does anyone know what this stuff is used for in a forensic lab?

The Alameda County Bomb Squad today detonated vials of crystallized picric acid from a forensics laboratory in Hayward, fire officials reported...

... "(There were) 100 grams in two small vials, (with) 10 to 20 little crystals at the bottom of the vials and the remainder sealed in liquid form," Berg said.

The chemical in the vials was about two years old, and when crystallized the acid becomes unstable and extremely reactive, according to Berg...

... Berg said forensics laboratories often have hazardous materials on site, but when used in a lab they are considered under control. However, in today's case, the crystallized picric acid was deemed out of control and required fire officials on site.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Our Lab is Your Lab (and my lab)

submit by troy m; comments by blogger jgl

Wait a minute... I saw Marg Helgenberger do this on CSI!

A Michigan State Police forensic scientist, who has worked on many high-profile cases, admitted using the state's crime lab to conduct her own DNA testing, transcripts of divorce hearings show.

Ann Gordon, who court documents refer to as Ann Chamberlain-Gordon, admitted to the attorney representing her former husband, Charles Gordon, that she used crime lab equipment in 2006 to test his underwear - finding evidence of another woman's DNA.

Anyone out there ever have an affair? How does a woman's DNA get on your underwear. I mean if you're... eh, nevermind.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Chemical Fingerprinting BS

by blogger jgl

Just for the record, I *rarely* pee on my hands.

Chemical residues contain a few millionths of a gram of fluid and can be found on all fingerprints. Conventional fingerprinting techniques often distort or destroy vital chemical information with no easy way of lifting residues for chemical imaging, until now.

Imperial scientists found that the use of gel tapes, commercial gelatine based tape, provides a simple method for collection and transportation of prints for chemical imaging analysis.

The prints, once lifted, are analysed in a spectroscopic microscope. The sample is irradiated with infrared rays to identify individual molecules within the print to give a detailed chemical composition…

…Chemical clues could also highlight specific traits in a person. A strong trace of urea, a chemical found in urine, could indicate a male. Weak traces of urea in a chemical sample could indicate a female. Specific amino acids could potentially indicate whether the suspect was a vegetarian or meat-eater…

Krrk… This is your Fantasy Land tour guide. Please prepare for our return to reality…

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mobile DNA - maybe, maybe, maybe

submit by troym; comments by blogger jgl

I think this lab-on-a-chip idea has been around for a while. If I'm not mistaken, there are some ideas based on SNP analysis, but this seems like true STR work. No new databases needed.

The goal of the new technology is to shorten the time it takes to process DNA samples, so they can be used to identify suspects while a crime scene is still fresh. Currently, samples are processed in a lab, which can take days or weeks. Richard Mathies, a chemistry professor and creator of the device, hopes his technology will cut that down to hours...

...But there's still work to be done, Mathies said, such as integrating the whole process into one machine. The Gattaca Project only performs two of the four steps in DNA analysis...

...The machine is a miniaturized version of what you'd find in a lab, and looks like a black box the size of a briefcase. It uses a microchip and a laser beam the size of hair to measure the length of DNA fragments...

I'm guessing the 2 of 4 steps mentioned are separation and measurement? so it's like a 310 in a box? ... with the other 2 steps being extraction and amplification.

If my assumptions are right, then this is fairly good news. I assume that only "good quality" samples would be analyzed at the scene, so a quick and dirty extraction should be pretty easy. The amping will be tough, especially a "quick" one, but a mobile thermal cycler isn't completely unreasonable. I'm guessing starting out, a full multiplex reaction wouldn't be necessary either... wouldn't just 4 STRs be enough to cut down a list of suspects to a useful number?

Is there more info anywhere? i googled gattaca and didn't come up with much non-ethanhawke material.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Search for Amelia Earhart continues...

by team uab, lsw

A research team from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) is en route to the South Pacific island of Nikumaroro, where some believe Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan may have become stranded in 1937:

Once at the 2 1/2-mile-long island, the group was to spend 17 days searching for human bones, aircraft parts and any other evidence to try to show that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, reached the island on July 2, 1937, crashed on a reef at low tide and made it to shore, where they possibly lived for months as castaways, written off by the world as lost at sea.

The team is hoping to build upon previous discoveries on this island, like airplane parts consistent with (but not specifically identifiable as) Earhart's plane. This sounds like fun, BUT...

The conditions during the search will be punishing, with the explorers forced to contend with dense jungle vegetation, 100-degree heat, sharks that reside in a lagoon in the middle of the island and voracious crabs that make it necessary to wear shoes at all times.

However, the crabs, when supplied with pig bones, may actually help the search:

Kar Burns, one of two anthropologists on the team, hopes coconut crabs native to the island — some as big as 2 1/2 feet across — will carry the pig bones to wherever human bones might have been taken by crabs. DNA from human bones could help solve the mystery, [TIGHAR director] Gillespie said.

It's hard to deny that a lot of people still want to know what happened to Earhart. I was wondering how this type of research--which has got to be expensive--gets funded. On its website, TIGHAR states that it is a non-profit organization which relies upon "corporate and individual sponsors". The site has a lot of info, and appears to be worth a look.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wanted: Fingerprint Removal Surgeon

found by troym

The charges conspiring to distribute marijuana and being an accomplice and accessory after the fact to marijuana dealing stem from surgery he performed on a Jamaican man to replace his fingerprints with skin from his feet...

...In an interview after his arrest, Covarrubias admitted that he performed the fingerprint procedure on five people, including his co-defendant, and that he was aware that all of them were wanted by the law, Ballou said.

Spector Case... experts or hired guns?

Guilty... of a hair-don't.
by blogger jgl

I have been following this trial in a half-assed sort of way. Some of the testimony bothers me. Sure, it is reasonable that 2 scientists come to different conclusions over "objective" physical evidence, but it seems like both sides are strongly declaring themselves right and the other side wrong. Scientists know it is not black and white. Do you have to fake it in court?

For example, Spector claims to have been 6 feet away from where the actress shot herself. He had blood spatter on him. Can blood spatter travel 6 feet? One person says blood spatter can only travel 2 feet. Another person says it's consistent with traveling 6 feet. They both are using different studies to support themselves.

DiMaio also defended his reliance on a German study of blood spatter in which a scientist shot calves to collect evidence on how far blood spatter can travel. American studies cited by the prosecution involved experiments shooting into sponges.

Can't we just have one expert giving both sides of the argument? (sure, that's a stupid question)

What really bothered me is a statement that DiMaio made that went something like... since 99% of oral gunshots are suicides, statistically, this is probably a suicide. Then he implies his "statistical reasoning" is just like DNA testimony.

Dr. Vincent DiMaio said he was basing his opinions on scientific evidence and not trying to help Spector, for whom he is working.

Deputy District Attorney Alan Jackson accused DiMaio of relying too heavily on statistics that the majority of women who commit suicide use handguns.

"Statistics don't get us any closer to the facts of this case, do they?" asked Jackson.

"If we didn't use statistics you would have to discard DNA," said DiMaio. "DNA is all probabilities."

I'm no statistician and don't know much about no logic... but isn't there a flaw with that comparison?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Forensic Entomology - Worst Job Ever (almost)

submit by troym; comments by blogger jgl

Two links for this post. Both about forensic entomology...

The first was submitted by troy m about how tricky species ID of insects can be. Identifying the species of a maggot is the first step in accurately estimating how old the maggot is, which helps estimate how long a body has been dead.
Click here for the full story.

Misidentification of insects can also lead forensic scientists astray, says Kimsey. At a recent North American Forensic Entomology meeting she assembled six blowfly specimens and asked attendees to identify them. "No one identified them all correctly," says Kimsey. "We were very discouraged. If you can't identify the blowfly correctly, then your estimation of the postmortem interval could be wrong."

Next is one I found floating around the web. A look at the worst jobs in science. Look who comes in at number 9.

As a result of the success of such television shows as "CSI," the forensics field has undergone a dramatic overhaul in the eyes of the public. But don't be fooled, forensic entomology is not for the faint of heart, the squeamish, nor the insectophobic. These scientists spend their days basking in the florescent light of the city or county morgue analyzing bugs on decaying corpses. They check maggots, larvae, blowflies and anything that breeds off of decaying human flesh in order to determine the "postmortem interval," or the gap between the time of death and time of the body's discovery.

"It's incredibly gross," Ward said. "The people who handle [forensic entomology] are a whole other species of human, as far as I can tell,...

Man, rough week for the bug guys.

Monday, June 18, 2007 says you are not the father!

by blogger jgl

At first glance, this story is of minor interest.

The rapidly growing field of online genealogical searches is expanding to genetic testing, courtesy of a new partnership between the Internet's largest family history Web site,, and Sorenson Genomics, a privately held DNA research firm... plans to launch the DNA testing product by the end of summer, offering customers the possibility of finding DNA matches in the site's 24,000 genealogical databases.

But then I started thinking about a statistic I heard many ago about paternity. I can't remember what the estimate was, or how reliable it was... but apparently if everyone took a paternity test there would be some very surprised kids and husbands. This could be a very dangerous road.

I wonder how would handle a situation like that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Spector's DNA, or lack thereof

by blogger jgl

This is one drawback with the glorification of forensic science. Incorrect conclusions are being drawn when DNA evidence is NOT found.

The Phil Spector murder trial entered its seventh week with the emphasis again turning to forensic evidence and the defense losing a bid for a mistrial.

A criminalist testified Monday that the music producer's DNA was not detected on the gun that killed Lana Clarkson, but suggested it might have been hidden under the large amount of the actress' blood on the weapon...

...The defense is expected to argue that the absence of Spector's DNA on the gun means he did not pull the trigger and that Clarkson killed herself. The prosecution may argue that Spector wiped off the gun at some point...

Shame on you, defense team. It's tough to recover DNA from touch. He could have shot the gun and licked the sides, but there still might not be enough DNA to produce a profile... especially when a mixture is involved.

Just because you can't see the needle, doesn't mean it's not in the haystack.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Spector Watch

by blogger jgl

I guess this 2003 case is just starting to roll. Last week, there was confusion over whether Henry Lee picked up a fingernail at the crime scene (see post below). Now forensics row will start to trot through the witness stand. This seems like a lot of forensics for one bullet.

The Phil Spector murder trial is going CSI.

After five weeks of dramatic personal stories about the music producer and the B-movie actress shot to death in his home, prosecutors are shifting their focus today to science and the critical forensic evidence.

There will be discussions of blood spatter, fibers, gunshot residue, DNA and the path a bullet took when it killed actress Lana Clarkson...

..."The prosecution has to show that the forensic evidence is consistent with their theory that Spector pulled the trigger or forced her to pull the trigger," said Loyola University law professor Laurie Levenson.

How would physical evidence show that he forced her to pull the trigger? Gee whiz.

On a side note, I was surprised to find that one of the lawyers, Linda Kenney-Baden, is married to the well-known pathologist Michael Baden. What a power couple! For some reason they both showed up in a dream I had the other night. I think we may have been in a small car... has anyone had a dorkier dream than that?

Pets fight crime (sort of)

submit by troym; comments by blogger jgl

The article mentions a couple different situations where animals and forensics cross paths. It doesn't go into much detail about the techniques. I think animal STRs (dog and cat, at least) are getting better and better, meaning the databases are improving. 1 in 67 million is a pretty impressive stat.

I wonder how they take breeding (inbreeding) into account?

...Christian eventually paid $500 for the evidence to be tested at the Veterinary Genetics Lab at the University of California at Davis, which has the largest database of domesticated-animal DNA in the country. The result? A one in 67 million chance the hair belonged to anyone other than Lucky.

"Usually, people come to us because it's a very emotional matter," said Beth Wictum, acting director of the lab's forensics division. "They've lost a pet, and for many people, pets are a member of the family and they want to get resolution."

Wictum's lab handles between 150 and 200 cases a year from all over the world. But scientists there don't just deal with pet-on-pet attacks. They process evidence from cases involving animal attacks on humans, human attacks on animals, and even human crimes against each other in which an animal may yield important clues...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Henry Lee - busted?

by blogger jgl

This is weird, but seems to fit in the circus atmosphere of celebrity cases. Only worth mentioning in case it turns into something more.

The judge in Phil Spector's murder trial ruled Wednesday that renowned forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee removed something from the scene where actress Lana Clarkson was shot and hid it from the prosecution...

...He said that of all the witnesses who had testified on the issue, the only one he found completely credible was attorney Sara Caplan, who said she saw Lee pick up a white object with a rough edge and place it in a vial during the defense search of the foyer of Spector's mansion.

The prosecution contends the item was a piece of a fingernail with the trace of a passing bullet that would show Clarkson was resisting having a gun placed in her mouth. Lee has denied taking any such thing from the crime scene.

A fingernail with bullet trace on it?! These people need to stop watching movies. The article leaps from someone possibly seeing Dr. Lee put something in a vial to knowing it was a fingernail with traces of a bullet. Something is missing here. Anyone hear more about this?

Who's your Uncle?

by blogger jgl

Finally. I'm sure this has happened before, but it's a good example of forensic limitations to talk about in class.

Twin brothers Raymon and Richard Miller are the father and uncle to a 3-year-old little girl. The problem is, they don't know which is which...

...But a paternity test in this case could not help. The test showed that both brothers have over a 99.9 percent probability of being the daddy— and neither one wants to pay the child support. The result of the test has not only brought to light the limits of DNA evidence, it has also led to a three-year legal battle...

Same old story. Girl meets boy. Girl attends rodeo. Girl sleeps with boy's twin brother.

"'Did you sleep with him [Richard Miller] while in Sikeston for the rodeo?'," Cameron Parker, Richard's lawyer, said she asked Holly Marie Adams in 2003 court testimony, to which she answered "'Yes ma'am.'" "She then said she went to appellant's [Raymon Miller's]home where they had sex later that night or early the next morning," Parker said.

Can fingerprints reveal habits?

by blogger jgl

Images that show how fingerprints can be used to reveal whether you are a smoker, an avid coffee drinker, or even a hard drug user, have been revealed by UK scientists.

They were produced using a novel forensic technique that could in future be used on fingerprints collected at a crime scene. If the prints in question are not on file, this would still give police a powerful way to shrink their pool of suspects, by identifying their lifestyle habits...

...It exploits the fact that the breakdown products - metabolites - of substances people consume are deposited in sweat found in pores in their fingerprint ridges. To detect these metabolites they use gold nanoparticles...

...To detect cotinine, a fingerprint is simply dabbed with a solution containing gold nanoparticles with attached antibodies that bind to the metabolite. Then a second antibody that binds to the cotinine antibodies and is marked with a fluorescent dye is applied...

I wonder what the limitations are? Does it work with every print or only sweaty ones? Will only habitual users "produce" or can it detect someone who is on a binge? And finally, has anyone seen this work published in a journal yet?

Thursday, May 17, 2007


by blogger jgl

For some reason, whenever I am giving a DNA lecture about mixtures, some knucklehead brings up chimeras. This is an old article concerning blood doping that i came across the other day, but it had some interesting facts, er... theories about chimeras.

Dr. Ann Reed, chairwoman of rheumatology research at the Mayo Clinic, who uses sensitive DNA tests to look for chimerism, finds that about 50 to 70 percent of healthy people are chimeras. The more scientists look for chimerism, the more they find it. It seemed not to exist in the past, she said, because no one was explicitly looking for small amounts of foreign cells in people's bodies.

I suppose if i wasn't so lazy, i could try to find out what type of "sensitive" DNA test they are using. I wonder if certain tissues are more likely to be "chimeric"? Anyone ever come across one in forensic casework?

Monday, May 14, 2007

More on Microstamping

sent by troy m; comments by blogger jgl

Last september we had a post about putting a serial number-type stamp on firing pins. The stamp is transferred to the cartridge, easing the process of tracing the gun. There was a debate as to whether this would cost 50 cents per gun or 150 dollars per gun. More testing suggests it could become a reality.

New technology to link cartridge cases to guns by engraving microscopic codes on the firing pin is feasible, but does not work well for all guns and ammunition tested in a pilot study by researchers from the forensic science program at UC Davis. More testing in a wider range of firearms is needed to determine the costs and feasibility of a statewide program of microstamping, as called for by proposed state legislation, the researchers said...

...To test the effects of repeated firing, Beddow fitted engraved firing pins into six Smith and Wesson .40-caliber handguns that were issued to California Highway Patrol cadets for use in weapons training. After firing about 2,500 rounds, the letter/number codes on the face of the firing pins were still legible with some signs of wear. But the bar codes and dot codes around the edge of the pins were badly worn...

...The researchers estimated that setting up a facility to engrave the firing pins of every handgun sold in California would cost about $8 per firing pin in the first year, falling to under $2 per firing pin in subsequent years, Tulleners said...

Cold Case... or is it?

found by troym; comments by blogger jgl

Summer time... hot dogs, swimming pools, and more blog entries.

This one sent in by troy lands in one of my favorite categories... events that might be crimes. Suspicious enough to be worthy for forensic testing, but aren't there other backlogged cases?

Last week, a duffel bag was found in a Belmont County, Ohio strip pond. The bag, which had been weighted down with bricks, contained items of men's clothing and contraceptives.

The Belmont County Sheriff said t-shirt featuring logo from the band Iron Maiden found in the duffel bag had a dark reddish brown stain on it. It was on the upper left chest area...

...The sheriff said there was no recoverable DNA remaining in the condoms. The paving bricks make the discovery particularly suspicious, since it appears someone didn't want this duffel bag to ever be found.

It appears it had been in the water for years...

On the forensic side... how long can DNA or hemoglobin survive under water? I'm guessing in that moist environment... 2 months! how's that for a random guess? any arguments?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

AAFS Annual Meeting - Thursday

by blogger jgl

I'm off to day 2 (for me) of the convention. Today will include some recruitment for the blog. If your a first time reader, thanks! Check out the entries below and add some comments (anyone can).

Today there will be posters and presentations. Maybe I'll get a chance to talk to the RFID people as well.

Some as of yet unreported highlights from yesterday...

- One member was prevented from attending the meeting due to his responsibility of guarding Anna Nicole's body. Duty calls.

- I heard (while eavesdropping) that the Criminalistics section had the best food last night (rack of lamb, cracked pecans with syrup over ice cream). Is this true? Anyone want to brag about their section's food-swag.

-I now know why San Antonio is not known for their mall-located Chinese food. Residents may remember the Alamo... I wish I could forget about my choice of meals last night.

AAFS Wednesday - Images

by blogger jgl

Wednesday was my first day here at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting. After buying some new batteries at the end of the day, I snapped some pics of the empty convention center.

I think these picures may be large in MB size. I didn't have time to shrink them. I'll only post a couple.

Typical vendor and poster area

Typical employment board. Hey, maybe next year... 2 boards?

Typical out of focus cyber cafe. This place is usually packed and is the only place (i think) to use the virtual message boards (showmail). Maybe more kiosks next year? Can we access this stuff through the "normal" internet? Is there a way to get free wifi at the convention center?

Alright, that's enough of that.

Is this guy nuts?

by blogger jgl

This really isn't directly related to forensic science, but I've been wondering about this for a couple days. This morning, that top-notch news team at the Today Show hinted that the judge in the Anna Nicole case may be losing it.

My questions began when he refused (and still does, i think) to force a paternity test. Why wait? Should we tune in next season? Cripes.

My next doubt came when he let cameras into the courtroom. Is this really that important to the public? My vote is more harm than good.

Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin has set a self-imposed Friday morning deadline to issue a decision in the case, which boils down to a tug-of-war between Smith's estranged mother, Virgie Arthur, who wants to bring her daughter's body home to Texas, and her attorney-turned-boyfriend Howard K. Stern, who wants a burial in the Bahamas.

"I got a gun to my head," he said.



by blogger jgl

AAFS Annual Meeting (BYOS):

This was a neat one. Michael Rieders tells the story of his obsession (sort of) with Salvador Dali and how he really wanted to get his hands on Dali's DNA.

How did he do it? After many offers of materials lacking reliability ("I have his moustache!"), eventually a friend of Dali turned up with a nasogastric tube that Dali used when recovering from a house fire incident during his later years. It had some blood and goop on it and resulted in a single male profile.

Why do it? For fun, mainly. But it does open up the chance to authenticate some works of art that may have Dali's "fluids" on them. Or test his DNA for a genius gene. Cloning was mentioned.

Two camments for any of my students or amateur forensic scientists... the nasogastric tube was stored for years in paper. Good news, right... air dry, no moisture, no bacteria to degrade the DNA. Also, it was mentioned they used the Takayama test to determine there was, in fact, blood on the tube. Takayama!? Who does crystal tests these days? Why not TMB? Is there a sensitivity issue I'm not aware of, or are just dealing with show-offs?

BYOS - Vampires!

by blogger jgl

AAFS Annual Meeting (BYOS):

Mark Benecke is entertaining. Click the title to go to his website (

Tonight he told the story of his work exploring the existence of vampires. Told in an enthusiastic manner, Mark described how many of the traits assigned to vampires are actually just natural (albeit somewhat rare) traits of decomposition.

A vampire doesn't die or decompose. Some bodies will mummify or have their flesh turn to adipocere, lacking the appearance of normal decomposition.

A vampire sucks blood or bleeds from the mouth or eyes. Some bodies will leak decomposition fluid out of the mouth or nose, which can run back into the eyes.

A vampire has long fingernails. Some dead bodies will have the skin on the fingers "shrink" back, giving the appearance of fingernail growth after death.

There were some other cases and vampire theories thrown in (including something about a bloated penis, pic included). Entertaining stuff.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

BYOS - Katrina

by blogger jgl

AAFS Annual Meeting (Bring Your Own Slides - BYOS):

Anyone see that movie Magnolia? It begins with a scene where a forensic scientist is describing a case where a person jumps out a window and gets shot on the way plummeting to his death. If I have my facts straight, that was a real case described in one of these BYOS events. It is occasionally heralded as the best part of the AAFS meeting. It is a 2 hour informal session of forensic scientists talking about unique cases.

This year was pretty decent. The following is my interpretation of some of the stories told. I try to be as accurate as possible.

There were a couple presentations concerning the identification of Katrina remains. New Orleans coroner Frank Minyard told the story of how FEMA wanted him to go to Houston after the storm; instead, he drove back into the city, then swam back to his flooded coroner's office. The morgue there was useless. A group was stranded there for the famous 4 days without food or water.

Dr. Minyard and some other noble forensic pathologists, along with DMORT (a federal group that did a GOOD job during the disaster), put forth quite an effort in the aftermath processing and identifying the dead in a make-shift morgue created north of the city. One of the highlights of his story included them having to use a tent to "hide" the transfer of bodies from the morgue to the hearse - This was in order to prevent the media from hovering in helicopters hoping to get a money shot. Also, apparently FEMA spent a good bit of money building a nice morgue that was finished just as the last body was identified in the "make-shift" morgue. When New Orleans wanted to use it to perform autopsies once normal crime picked up in January of '06, they were denied use because federal regulations do not allow the morgue to be used for "normal" state autopsies. Apparently it just sits there unused. Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.

RFID for Everything!

by blogger jgl

AAFS Annual Meeting:

I didn’t get chance to talk to the people from Verichip since they always seemed to be surrounded by people in a debate mode. The one argument I overheard seemed to be about whether you could legally chip a dead body (I think it ended with body = no; body bag = yes, but natural disatsters may create an exception to the rule). Their display seems to be promoting chipping all types of evidence for tracking.

Their brochure didn't mention chipping criminals (which is what I was hoping for), but it did promote chipping you, old man! For safety reasons, of course. All your health information on a chip inside of you. See... you WANT a chip inside of you. Conspiracy theorists go wild.

Here's Lookin at You, Crook.

not your typical serial killers

by blogger jgl

AAFS Annual Meeting:

On Wednesday, there is not much going on other than some posters and the exhibits. I didn’t make it in time for the posters, but all the exhibits were out in full force.

One that was interesting to me was the Trace Genetics booth. Some other companies are doing this too. It seems most of their work is done for the public. They send you a swab, you send them your cheek cells, then they analyze your DNA and tell you about your ancestry (80% European, 20% Native American, etc.). Now you know if you can open that casino you always wanted.

Why not do it in casework? They can also analyze DNA from a crime scene and tell you about the ancestry of the perpetrator. Not a lot of police agencies are spending the money to do this, but in some circumstances they are. We’re getting closer to being able to produce a “picture” of an individual from DNA alone. Good thing or potential for abuse? What the heck, I say good thing. Maybe we can get a more accurate profile of serial killers beyond "white male, mid-30s, military background, loner".

More to come…

Welcome to the AAFS Annual Meeting

by blogger jgl

Every group has their annual convention. Forensic science is no different. In the states, every February forensic scientists gather at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences annual meeting. This year, we are storming the city of San Antonio.

Although the conference rages all week, I’ll be in town Wednesday through Saturday. I’ll be checking out the Exhibits, Bring Your Own Slides program, Poster Sessions, and Presentations. Maybe some pictures if I can find out where to buy some new rechargeable batteries.

There doesn’t appear to be any big celebrities in this year, with the exception of Bill Bass (founder of the Body Farm) who is in town to sign/sell a new book. But I think he’s always here anyway.

One complaint… no free wi-fi. Is it typical at conventions to try to milk 12.95 per day out of people?

More to come…

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Super Bullets

"the Bubba Bullet is just incredible"
submit by troym; comments by blogger jgl

This is kind of an interesting story, but the endorsement by Irlene Mandrell really makes it post worthy.

Harold "Bubba" Beal didn't think so. He has invented a bullet he has coined "The Bubba Bullet", a type of frangible ammunition. That means the bullet breaks apart on contact with a solid surface, and it can be calibrated to turn to metallic dust when it strikes the thinnest metal, or beefed up to pierce thick layers of steel and bulletproof glass.

"Imagine a round that could revolutionize airplane security as federal sky marshals can fire it without any fear of ricochet or pass through, or fear of hitting an innocent passenger or penetrating the aircraft's skin. Terrorists might think twice," Tyser said.

yser said it would also decrease the danger of hostage situations because a policeman could fire a Bubba Bullet, penetrate thick layers of glass or a metal car door, and deliver a hit on a criminal without the risk of hitting innocent bystanders. In recent tests at federal proving grounds in Virginia, a standard .223-caliber Bubba Bullet inflicted a wound cavity in a soap block that was equal to the size of a baseball.

"It's one of the most precise rounds I have ever fired," said country music star and famed women's outdoors activist Erlene Mandrell.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Microscope U

submit by troym; comments by blogger jgl

From a MSFS faculty member’s perspective, the distance learning would be a neat resource for students since some programs don’t have access to electron microscopes, Raman spectroscopy, etc. Of course, learning about instrumentation without physically being in the lab is tricky. I have a feeling as online instruction advances, outsourcing specialty courses like this will become more common.

The McCrone Group, Inc., internationally recognized as a world leader in microanalysis and the nation's Premier Microscopy Resource, announces today the opening of its unparalleled new state-of-the-art learning center in Westmont, Illinois. The Learning Center is home to the College of Microscopy, hosting the largest array of advanced modern microscopy courses and instrumentation within any single educational facility in the United States.

The unique College of Microscopy specializes in training material scientists, crime lab personnel, First Responders, researchers, and technicians how to locate and identify unknown or suspect materials using light microscopy, electron microscopy, and FTIR and Raman spectroscopy.

The McCrone Group estimates that the College of Microscopy will train more than 1,000 students per year. Long-range plans for the College of Microscopy include offering formalized distance learning and advanced degree programs. The staff of the McCrone Group has been teaching scientists and researchers for more than 45 years.

Vick's Bottle

by blogger jgl

During a recent trip to the airport, Michael Vick surrendered a water bottle with a secret compartment that contained a marijuana-like smell, according to security personnel. I hope the smell test is reliable. Even if the test (for THC, I imagine) comes back negative and there was never anything illegal in the water bottle, his reputation will be affected. Maybe even in a negative way.

Vick reluctantly surrendered a water bottle to security at Miami International Airport that smelled like marijuana and contained a substance in a hidden compartment. He was not arrested and was allowed to board an AirTran flight that landed in Atlanta before noon Wednesday.

Under Florida law, possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. First offenders rarely do any jail time.

The bottle was found to have a compartment that contained "a small amount of dark particulate and a pungent aroma closely associated with marijuana," a Miami police report said. The compartment was hidden by the bottle's label so that it appeared to be a full bottle of water when held upright, police said.

Eh... suspicious. For the professionals, if there was marijuana in there at one time, what are the chances of detecting THC? Good? Lousy?