Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Quick Non-DNA ID

found by troym; comments by blogger jgl

Interesting. I hadn't heard anything about this until Troy sent it in. It is the quick DNA test everyone has been looking for, except this one doesn't use DNA! And everyone thought anitbodies were so 1980s...

Identity Sciences, LLC (IDS), with its strategic science partner the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), has been awarded a 2008 R&D 100 Award for AbP ID(TM), a new groundbreaking forensic human identification test. The new product, scheduled to be available to forensic labs in late 2009 or early 2010, will be used as a screening tool for DNA and can deliver accurate, reliable results in as little as two hours...

...The Chicago Tribune calls the award "The Oscars of Invention." Previous winners include the fax machine, the Automated Teller Machine (ATM), the cancer drug Taxol, the Nicoderm anti-smoking patch and HDTV...

...The AbP ID test analyzes Individual Specific Auto-antibodies (ISAs), found in all human body tissues and fluids. It is unlike the current standard forensic testing method which reads DNA in human cells. The AbP ID test can determine whether the antibody profile of the evidence found at a crime scene matches the profile of a suspect. The initial product release will use blood serum and dried blood, and will provide results in just two hours. Other AbP ID tests which are now in development will use semen, saliva and perspiration, delivering results in less than five hours.

I'm trying to think when screening would be useful. For all evidence samples, I'm assuming DNA would be analyzed anyway. Plus, I'm wondering how much sample would be needed to run one of these tests. I suppose they could be used to screen suspects quickly. But would a "no match" mean absolute exclusion, not requiring a DNA "double check"?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Newsflash! Handwriting Experts Differ.

found by troym;by blogger jgl

I don't mean to be too hard on handwriting experts, i just think it is too tough of an art to qualify as "scientific evidence". This is a somewhat lame example, but it sounds like the author of this news story hired 3 experts to look at a cold case. They disagreed.

The experts contacted for this story examined a letter and a receipt known to have been written by Linda Sohus prior to her disappearance... ...They also scrutinized a postcard mailed from France after the couple vanished from their Lorain Road home in February 1985.

Two of the examiners said the postcard was not written by Linda Sohus. But a third said she is nearly certain it was written by Linda.

In defense of 2 of the analysts, the one with the differing opinion also practices graphology.

"Many of the letters butt up against each other, showing a lack of clear social boundaries," Lowe wrote. "The bowed t-bars suggest that she could easily be talked into or out of doing something."


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Caylee's Body - Forensic Proof?

by blogger jgl

I had half an ear on this last night, and was a bit suspicious of what i heard. The context was that police have "forensic evidence" that "formally indicates" Caylee was dead. I was wondering what the heck this meant. As far as i can tell, they found a hair that they can "prove" was from a decomposing body.

The sheriff's office in Orange County, Florida, now says that lab tests have confirmed that a decomposing body had been in the trunk of a car driven by Casey Anthony...

...Forensics tests confirmed there had been a decomposing body in the car, the statement said. Detectives disclosed at a July hearing the trunk contained hair samples appearing to belong to Caylee, a strong odor and suspicious stain that glowed under black light.

A couple things...

First off, this video is humorous as Nancy and some guy debate whether there is new "DNA evidence" or "scientific evidence". (embed video might not work in firefox - follow above link)

It sort of highlights how the media can occasionally bypass the meaning of evidence and just parade around a fact as true if "forensics" supports it. Also, in case you don't know what DNA stands for, Nancy's got you covered.

Second, let's look at this hair evidence. Here's a video about the analysis by people "who are known to be experts on this stuff".

I'm not overly confident in the conclusion. I *think* the analysis completed at the body farm is based on a 2001 article (Linch, CA, Prahlow JA. Postmortem Microscopic Changes Observed at the Human Head Hair Proximal End. J Forensic Sci 2001;46(1):15-20). This article demonstrates that these postmortem bands are sometimes found on decomposed hair, but not all the time. More importantly, there is not a lot of documentation on whether antemortem hairs could sometimes exhibit this banding. Of course, proving that antemortem hairs could *never* look like postmortem hairs would be a tall order.

I'm wondering if any blind proficiency tests of this type have ever been administered to hair analysts. Microscopy is tough. Can they get it right 100% of the time? I also haven't read who at the body farm was analyzing the hairs. Maybe it is author Linch and he's done a lot more work on this since his 2001 study.

Hopefully the media and investigators aren't jumping the gun on this "forensic proof" that a dead body was in the trunk. It sounds like a safe bet. From what i am reading, the trunk smelled bad and cadaver dogs hit on it (i think - i've been lazily following this story).

As for the DNA that may or may not be there... here's a prediction. They will find Caylee's hair in the trunk of her mom's car. Even if the mom turns out to be innocent. Hair gets all over the place. I wouldn't be surprised if my hair was all over the trunk of my parent's cars when i was a kid. Even worse, they'll do mtDNA and find hair that *might* have been from Caylee (gasp!) or from her mother (sigh).

Two final thoughts... #1 why do they have to dress up Nancy's guest hosts like Nancy herself? #2 are they pronouncing "hair" as "air"?

Clarification: They took both "hair and "air" samples from the trunk to test for a decomposing body. This is turning into a Dr. Seuss story. what are they testing the air for... i'll have to see what research has been doen on this.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Who Killed Chandra Levy?

by team uab, lsw

The Washington Post is running a series of articles on the 2001 disappearance and murder of D.C. intern Chandra Levy. From the series introduction:

The murder of Chandra Levy remains Washington's most famous unsolved crime. Many people, including police and prosecutors, suspected that a congressman was responsible. But a year-long Washington Post investigation reveals new information showing that critical leads were ignored and the killer may never be brought to justice.

Some of the mistakes reported to have been made include an incomplete initial search of Rock Creek Park, and a preliminary search of Levy's computer by a police officer (who was not a computer forensics expert) which delayed the reconstruction of its Internet history. The series is fascinating, especially for those interested in the Levy case, and it has a lot of forensic-related content.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Work for the FDA!

submit by troym; comments by blogger jgl

Troy sent along this article about the labs that serve the Food & Drug Administration. This is an agency that could be easily forgotten by forensic graduates looking for employment. I'm guessing that available positions would be posted on usajobs.com, a good site to hit in the job hunt.

The Food & Drug Administration has investigated many incidents involving accidental or intentional contamination of food and pharmaceuticals. Two units that are key to such investigations are the Forensic Chemistry Center (FCC) and the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR).

FCC in Cincinnati is FDA's crime lab and it supports the agency's Office of Criminal Investigation (OCI), which investigates criminal violations of the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act such as product tampering or pharmaceutical counterfeiting. OCI also participates in law enforcement and intelligence efforts related to threats associated with FDA-regulated products.

In addition to participating in criminal cases, FCC staff also assist in problem solving related to FDA's regulatory work. One example of this type of work is the 2007 pet food contamination case, says R. Duane Satzger, director of FCC's organic branch.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Tree DNA Database Gets Greenlight.

by blogger jgl

While this project is not directly related to forensics, there has been "palo verde" talk in the forensic community for some time. There is a chance that DNA from plant material on a suspect can be linked to a specific plant at a crime scene (or vice versa). While this work focuses on species identification (which is already possible for most species), the collection and sequencing of more DNA on a wider scale could lead to a better database. Not only would almost all plants be identifiable to the level of species, but many haplotypes within a species could be identified producing a ballpark assessment of rarity.

The New York Botanical Garden may be best known for its orchid shows and colorful blossoms, but its researchers are about to lead a global effort to capture DNA from thousands of tree species from around the world....

The project is known as TreeBOL, or tree barcode of life. As in a similar project under way focusing on the world's fish species, participants would gather genetic material from trees around the world...

"If you don't know what you're potentially destroying, how can you know if it's important or not?" he said. "We know so little about the natural world, when it comes down to it, even though we've been working on it for hundreds of years."...

In order for the database to be useful, the same section of DNA must be used in all the samples so comparisons can be made across species. Part of the work at this week's meeting is to figure out which section to use, as well as other logistical issues among the more than 40 participating organizations...

And back at home in the Bronx, state-of-the-art labs allow researchers to examine plant DNA to figure out how genes influence plant development and to examine the relationships between plant species. The garden is also home to a collection of more than 7 million dried plant specimens, Miller said.

Dried plant specimens... uh-oh. Us 676ers here at UAB know that the extraction method will have to be chosen carefully.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Federal expansion of DNA sample collection

by team uab, lsw

This Washington Post article describes a government proposal to extend the policy of DNA sample collection (via cheek swabs) by federal authorities to include those arrested on federal charges, and some illegal immigrants detained by federal law enforcement. Currently, the federal government only collects DNA from those convicted of federal crimes. The proposed expansion builds on a growing state trend:

The move comes as 13 states -- including Virginia and, recently, Maryland -- have passed laws to include many arrestees in their DNA databanks. California, which has more than 1 million profiles, will begin collecting DNA from all felony arrestees next year. The information will be uploaded to the national database, which today houses more than 5.9 million samples, making it the largest forensic DNA databank in the world..

This development raises all kinds of issues, from immigrant rights, to privacy concerns raised by DNA collection, and to the question of how the DNA records of those who are arrested but not convicted (or whose convictions are overturned) are removed from the database. A good summary of the controversy can be found in the article.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Criminals turning to TV shows to cover their tracks

by team UAB, DB

You knew it was coming...ideas from shows like CSI being used by criminals to cover up murders.

“It was only when police told me that witnesses had said people were cleaning the car quite vigorously a short time after Andrew Scanlan disappeared and rolling tape on their hands to try to remove any forensic trace that would show Mr Scanlan had been in the vehicle.

“Luckily for us, there always tends to be some fibres left behind."

We all know criminals aren't the brightest...good thing even help from the media isn't enough to get away with murder.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

AAFS - Poster Sessions

by blogger jgl

Wha happened??? Didn't the poster sessions used to go from 11-3? And by 1 o'clock all the presenters were exhausted and left?

Well, this year they shortened it. 11:30 - 1pm. That's it! Luckily some of the presenters didn't pack up at 1 and stuck around for a while.

Some interesting stuff. I liked the one using Repairosome... no wait, that's Restorase DNA Polymerase (Sigma-Aldrich)... to repair damaged DNA.

There were lots of odor detection posters. Hmm....

AAFS Vendors!

by blogger jgl

Like any convention, there are always vendors around demonstrating their latest products. At AAFS, there's always something interesting... until this year. Nothing very exciting, although I suppose it all depends on your specialty. In the DNA world, nothing really grabbed me. Applied Biosystems big thing was Quantifiler Duo which combines two old kits into one new kit... wow! (i'm sure it is a little more advanced than that, but still). Qiagen seemed to be more robot heavy than in years past. Maybe the most exciting thing I saw were microfuge tubes that opened from the back. Wait 'til Grandma hears about this!

No bikini models at the convention (yet), but the displays are getting more elaborate. The award for most HDTVs used goes to Promega...

Most elaborate display (most floor space)? QIAGEN!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More on Keynote Session

by blogger jgl

Following Sen. Biden was the US Senate Sgt. at Arms Terrance Gainer. He was a lively fellow, even volunteering to entertain the crowd during some technical difficulties. Sgt. at Arms Gainer is an experienced law man; it was interesting to hear his take on what was currently important in forensic science.

He began by talking about low copy number (or touch) DNA analysis. He was very impressed with the potential for recovering DNA from triggers, steering wheels, etc. I'm still wondering how well this works in the real world. It looks like most researchers get mixed results.

He also mentioned the DNA initiative and the DNA backlog that needs to be resolved.

He mentioned the need for proper training of law enforcement personnel, especially in rural areas. This was good to hear since communication between the evidence collectors and lab scientists is needed in the field. It's probably a surprise to much of the outside world that it is not one person taking samples from the cradle to the grave (like on CSI). As a lab scientist, I know very little about the training and thought processes of officers in the field and I'm sure the officers have a limited knowledge of the scientists as well.

Mr. Gainer also touched on some new methods, like familial searches, and it was good to hear the necessary caution against rights to privacy of citizens.

He capped it off by repeating Sen. Biden's comment that it is now time to expand funding of forensics beyond DNA to other areas of the lab (applause).

AAFS Annual Meeting

by blogger jgl

Although the annual American Academy of FOrensic Sciences conference has had various meetings/workshops going on since saturday, today is the day the vendors roll in and scientific poster sessions begin.

The day kicked off with the Keynote Session at 9am. First up, a video pep talk from Sen. Joe Biden.

Although overall the talk was a typical pat on the back, the high-ranking Senator did have some interesting things to say. He specifically mentioned the CSI effect, sympathizing with the often unreasonable expectations forensic scientists must face. He mentioned the DNA initiative (didn't it used to be the "President's" DNA Initiative?). He also started a trend of specifically stating that although past funding for DNA has been great, it is now time to expand that funding to other non-DNA areas of forensic science. He also specifically mentioned the accreditation of forensic science programs, perhaps indicating that some forensic science programs need to tweak their goals. FInally, he recognized the fact that forensic science continues to grow (need for continued funding).

more news and corrected pics to come...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Amelia Earhart Search - Close?

by blogger jgl

I recently received an email from David Billings. He believes his group has a good chance of recovering the remains of Amelia Earhart(www.electranewbritain.com). His website does a good job of explaining his reasoning and back story. As with most research, he is short on funding. Also, once his group relocates the aircraft that may be Earhart's, they will likely need the help of an anthropologist to help recover the remains. If you, or any anthropologist you know might be interesting in donating your services, i'd encourage you to contact David. Below is an excerpt from his email.

We are pretty sure from the evidence that we have that we are after the Electra which should contain the remains of Earhart and Noonan.

It looks very promising right now as of today that shortly we will obtain the funding required to have another crack at finding this aircraft which was seen in 1945 by Australian Soldiers on New Britain Island. Even if we do not recieve funding for a Magnetometer Survey we will be going in again for a ground search in mid-year...

...I will require forensic assistance to a high standard and on a voluntary basis and possibly self-funded. In saying this, I realise that after the find there will be enough funding sent my way to cater for this, but at the moment self-funding has to be said...