On December 7, 1941 the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack that decimated the US Pacific Fleet. Of the ships that were attacked few sank as fast or as completely as the Oklahoma, which listed and capsized within minutes after a rapid series of direct torpedo strikes.
Survivors from the Oklahoma described a surreal scene below deck of sloshing water and fuel oil, men trying to climb from the darkness through hatches, beating their way out with tools. Hundreds remained trapped in interior compartments. Of the dead on the Oklahoma, 36 were easily recovered and identified. The remainder were not able to be identified and were interred in communal caskets.
Approximately 74,000 soldiers from World War II still remain unaccounted for. About one-quarter of those are considered recoverable by the military’s Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, the Hawaii organization that has relied on scientific and geopolitical changes to identify more than 600 long-lost MIAs since 2003.
The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command’s military and civilian teams have tracked down aircraft wrecks and burial sites in remote locations, exhumed remains, and analyzed bone fragments and bits of material at the world’s largest forensic anthropology lab. They work with casualty offices from each branch to find survivors and collect DNA samples for matching. For each name, the military tries to locate at least two relatives who share a long-lasting form of DNA passed along maternal lines.
In Hawaii, Greg Berg, the forensic anthropologist who manages the joint command’s Central Identification Laboratory, cautions that the work to identify remains could take years, the process he warns is complicated by commingling of remains which is far more extensive than expected. Only five people have been definitively identified since 2003.
Still, “the commingling problems are not insurmountable, and [we are] confident in our abilities to eventually bring about case resolution,’’ Berg said by e-mail.
For more see: Boston Globe
By now you have heard the news: On October 3rd, 2011, Amanda Knox and former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, won their appeal in an Italian court and were acquitted and freed for the murder of British student, Meredith Kercher. Despite a previous trial and guilty verdict based on supposed DNA evidence, both convicted parties won an appeal and a deeper trial over the evidence occurred.
While we could pick over all of the details of the case, we’ll leave that for another organization to discuss. Instead, allow us to focus alone on genetic evidence.
With no obvious motive, no independent witnesses and no confessions, the Italian prosecutors had to rely on genetic evidence found at the crime scene to convict Knox and Sollecito. This makes sense as genetic evidence is supposed to be iron clad. Or is it?
The original conviction relied on traces of Sollecito’s DNA being found on the victim’s (Kercher) brassiere clasp, together with traces of DNA from both defendants being found on the knife allegedly used to slash Kercher’s throat. However, similar to our famous U.S. tales of botched crime scene evidence (ie. the Jon Benet Ramsey or OJ Simpson cases), the prosecutions evidence has been marred with rumors of bad police work and possible fabricated evidence. Furthermore, not only did the defendants know Meredith Kercher, but Amanda Knox lived with her.This complicates matters on an enormous level.
The first issue is called “contamination”. Unlike crimes where the victim and perpetrator don’t know each other, and therefore a genetic link is most likely an obvious connection, it is hard to do the same with roommates and their visiting friends – there will always be matching DNA present. And although DNA evidence puts a person ‘at the scene of the crime’; it does not necessarily prove they committed the crime.
Secondly, although DNA evidence can match the scene of a crime, it does not allow for “time-based evidence”. There is no telling if a match occurs because a victim or perpetrator was present at the time of the incident or exists because they were present at some other point in history.
Finally, although many people have been successfully prosecuted on DNA evidence, it is not failsafe or full proof. Typically, a DNA sample found on a murder weapon will be said to match the DNA of the suspect to the extent that only one person in one million would have the same profile. However, if a particular genetic profile is held by one person in, say, one million this means that in a country with a population of 60m will have 60 people that give a perfect mach for the DNA evidence and even more would match a partial profile of that evidence.
In the U.S., a man called Kerry Robinson was convicted a few years ago of gang rape. In an independent investigation last year DNA evidence from the crime scene plus Robinson’s DNA profile was shown to 17 ‘blind’ analysts with no contextual information: the 17 experts were hugely divided – 12 said the suspect could be excluded.
Although no one can or should doubt the genetic evidence is a powerful tool for solving crime, it is not perfect and it has it’s weakness, from false positives to human error. One thing is for certain – this legal matter and it’s evidence will be scrutinized for a long time to come. Let’s hope that we can learn from it.
In a move that seems deceptively futuristic, but is in fact a sign of the times, the Nazareth, Pennsylvania based Martin Guitar Company is making waves in their industry by including botanical genetic coding in the body of their instruments.
Generations of the Martin family have been proudly making guitars since 1833. The current management, headed by Chairman and CEO Christian Frederick Martin IV, recently decided that, in an attempt to continue to fight for their otherwise stellar reputation, they will implant each new instrument with a DNA tag designed to thwart counterfeiters and send a message that they will not watch their company’s reputation diluted by cheap knockoffs, coming predominately out of China.
Gregory Paul, the company’s vice president of operations said, ”"The Martin family has always been vocal about fighting overseas counterfeiters. They have had a particularly hard time persuading the Chinese Government to prosecute imitators who have been selling inferior products under the C.F. Martin name.” “The Internet makes it too easy for a counterfeiter or their distributor to offer even a handful of units to a very broad audience. Ads for these sites crop up every day.”
The genetic tagging was developed by Applied DNA Sciences a company from Stony Brook, N.Y., which pioneered the technology allowing manufacturers to mark their products with a unique trace of plant DNA. According to a spokesman for the company ”The DNA tag itself can be put into anything in the production process it can be put into ink, for labels on wine bottles. It can be put into glue or varnish or just about anything.”
Applied DNA is also working with the Department of Defense to put tags on microchip components that go into weapons systems in order to combat counterfeit chips that have been making their way into the military supply chain.
What we wonder is how, exactly, the instruments will be tested for authenticity and how much it will cost to do so. Furthermore, if DNA/genetic coding can be found in the guitar and used for genetic testing to confirm authenticity, then won’t counterfeiters be able to obtain and replicate the DNA from the instrument(s) and apply it to their own?
Big questions for a big future in genetics…
New Hope for Old Cases: Full DNA Profile of Ted Bundy Now Available
Twenty Two years after Ted Bundy’s execution, and at least 30 dead, a full DNA profile of Bundy is now available though CODIS the FBI DNA database. It is hoped that his profile can bring closure to open homicide cases nation wide.
DNA was extracted from a vial of blood discovered in a courthouse where it had been stored for the last three decades. The profile was assembled by David Coffman, chief of forensics at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Coffman says that police departments can now enter DNA evidence they might have from cold cases into the system and see if there is any match with Mr. Bundy’s DNA
Coffman also said in an interview that he typically receives four or five calls a year from investigators located nation-wide asking about Bundy’s DNA in connection with unsolved cases. He went on to state that until now there has been no full DNA profile available. Because of the length of time Bundy was actively killing, and because he was active on both the west and the east coasts, many investigators would like to confirm or eliminate him as a suspect. Unfortunately, his crimes took place well before the advent of DNA technology and therefore, his DNA was not secured before his death. In 2002 a partial DNA profile was created from a tissue sample taken during Bundy’s autopsy, but the profile from the tissue sample was not complete enough to enter into the F.B.I. database CODIS. Until now.
Coffman’s department was contacted earlier this year by the Tacoma Washington Police Department for a cold case that involved an 8-year-old girl who disappeared from her house in 1961. They suspected Bundy because he was living in Tacoma at the time and alway claimed that he got is start as a teen. He was 14 at the time. Bundy denied responsibility for her disappearance.
Coffman’s department made an effort to extract DNA from two dental molds held at the department’s forensics laboratory. The impressions, which had been taken in the 1970s, matched bite marks on the left buttock of 20-year-old Lisa Levy, one of two students at Florida State University Mr. Bundy was convicted of killing. But the DNA in the dental molds was too degraded to use for a profile.
Coffman’s department then started calling contacts around Florida to see if any evidence might still exist that could contain DNA. Fortunately, a vial of blood was found in the evidence vault at the Columbia County courthouse. The blood had been taken in 1978 in connection with the death of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach in Lake City, Fla., the third murder Mr. Bundy was convicted for.
Despite being 33 years old, the sample was perfect and a full profile was created and uploaded into the F.B.I.’s DNA database, CODIS.
According to Coffman, at this time there have been no hits on any cold cases. The Tacoma police hope to test any DNA they can find from the Burr case against the Bundy profile. Cold-case detective in the Tacoma Police Department’s homicide unit, Gene Miller said his office was shipping biological material from the Burr house to the state’s crime laboratory and that if DNA can be extracted, it would then be uploaded into the F.B.I.’s database. He and his office feel that this could be ”a huge step forward,” Detective Miller said. Even if it does not, “it will still be a great step forward,” because it will finally eliminate or confirm him as a suspect. It is likely that police departments in other areas where Bundy passed through will do the same.
New York State officials are hoping that genetic testing can help solve the mystery of a mountain lion which mysteriously appeared in Greenwich. DNA testing will be used to determine where the deceased young male mountain lion came from and, hopefully, how he got to Greenwich, NY in the first place. Along with how is the question of any criminal aspect to his appearance. A mountain lion was killed by a driver on Route 15 in Milford, NY early Saturday morning. Officials believe that this same lion that had been spotted in the upper King Street area of Greenwich earlier.
The mountain lion was neither neutered nor declawed, according to DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) officials. But they do believe the lion was let go from captivity or released into the area. Mountain lions are not native to this region of the state
Officials believe that by conducting genetic testing, examining the animal’s stomach content and checking to see if it was microchiped, they can determine where the mountain lion came from, including whether the animal is native to North America or South America.
After the crash that killed the mountain lion in Milford, there were three other reports of possible mountain lions, but DEP is not considering them to be credible because of a lack of photos or significant paw prints.
New York state DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) received an anonymous call on Sunday to report a large cat in the area of exit 31 on the Merritt Parkway in Greenwich. Later a call from a Greenwich family reported a large tan cat in the backyard of their John Street home, near the Audubon. The family described the cat as a mountain lion.
DEP Officials are testing “scat” or feces to determine what the second reported animal is.
DEP officials say that part of the investigation into the deceased mountain lion will be done in New York, where officials are checking on “permitted lions” to see if that generates leads. The closest mountain lion population is located in Florida. While the mountain lions roam, DEP officials do not think it is likely that a Florida mountain lion would have made the trip that far north.
DEP officials said mountain lions are most active at dawn and dusk and anyone with information should call 860-424-3333
Clonaid™ a company that claims to be a provider of reproductive human cloning services announced that a baby born on December 26th, 2002 was the first cloned baby. The baby, called Eve, is reported to be a clone of her mother. The company provided no pictures of the baby and no names of the parents were offered, not even a vague location of their whereabouts. By 2004 Clonaid had claimed the successful birth of 13 health cloned babies.
Cloning creates a new individual using only one person’s DNA. The process is technically difficult but conceptually simple. Scientists remove the genetic material from an unfertilized egg, then introduce new DNA from a cell of the animal to be cloned. Under the proper conditions, the egg begins dividing into new cells according to the instructions in the introduced DNA.
Cloning experts have said they need to see DNA evidence done by independent experts before they believe Clonaid’s claims. As of yet this has not happened. In 2003, it appeared that the world might get the evidence of cloning when freelance TV journalist and former ABC-TV science editor Michael Guillen, said he had chosen an expert who will draw DNA samples from the Eve and her mother. Guillen, said he had no links to Clonaid and was not being paid for his work. He had picked, two “world-class, independent DNA testing labs,” where other experts will look for a match between the samples. Unfortunately the samples and the testing never appeared.
At this point human cloning is still an unfounded claim and a hot topic of debate. Clonaid’s announcement created a flood of questions: ethical, medical, political, religious — some which belonged solely to the field of science fiction up to this point it appears. Their announcement also created a flurry of legislation and/or guidelines to ban human cloning have been introduced or passed in dozens of nations, including the United States. While many countries, including Britain, Israel, Japan and Germany, already have banned human cloning.
Amanda Knox is an American woman convicted for the December 2009 murder of a British student studying in Italy. Italian officials claimed that Amanda Knox murdered Meredith Kercher in a drug-fueled sex game that turned violent. Amanda Knox has repeatedly protested her innocence and is appealing the sentence. Meredith Kercher was found in November of 2007 in her room in the cottage she shared with Knox.
Curt Knox, the father of Amanda Knox, told reporters on May 18th that DNA experts for the his daughter’s appeal were missing key information that was being held by Italian police. When speaking with the AFP Curt stated, “The independent experts have made requests for specific information from the forensic police related to the DNA testing of the knife in particular… this data is not being provided.”
According to Amanda Knox’s father, the independent experts appointed to review key forensic evidence had not been given access to all the evidence. He stated in an email that, ”They have requested the “row data” which in DNA testing is a vital part of the process of testing. I’m told that this data is not being provided and this is the reason for the independent experts to request an extension to filing their final report.”
In the process of appealing Knox’s case, fresh DNA tests were ordered on the presumed murder weapon and a bra clip found at the scene. The DNA team had 90 days to review the evidence but are likely to use the May 21st hearing to request additional time to submit their final report.
Curt Knox said that, “Amanda is not afraid of the truth.” He added, ”it will be interesting to understand why the forensic police are not willing to provide the independent experts the information they feel is necessary in order to provide a fully reviewed final report.”
According to Curt Knox after visiting Amanda in prison, “She is holding up as well as you would expect for a person who has been in prison now for three-and-a-half years for a crime she didn’t commit and still has faith in the Italian Justice system to seek the truth in her appeals trial.”
Bill A-2594, that passed the New Jersey Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee and now heads to the full Assembly, will increase law enforcement’s crime-fighting powers buy requiring DNA samples from individuals arrested on suspicion of certain violent crimes. An identical version of the bill has already been approved by the Senate today.
Bill A-2594 amends New Jersey’s “DNA Database and Databank Act of 1994” so that it requires DNA samples from anyone arrested on suspicion of crimes. These include: murder; manslaughter; second degree aggravated assault; attempts to or causes serious bodily injury to another, or causes bodily injury while fleeing or attempting to flee a law enforcement officer; kidnapping; luring or enticing a child; engaging in sexual conduct which would impair or debauch the morals of a child; or aggravated sexual assault; sexual assault; aggravated criminal sexual contact; criminal sexual contact, or an attempt to commit any of these offenses.
The New Jersey bill stipulates that if the charges against a person from whom a DNA sample was collected are dismissed, or if a person is acquitted at trial, the sample and the profile would be destroyed, and all related records expunged, upon request by that individual.
The bill also gives law enforcement the teeth to be able to ensure compliance by making it a crime for any person who knowingly refuses to submit to the collection of a blood or biological sample. The penalty would be a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months, or a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
This bill will start to work with the FBI’s current index of DNA profiles. The FBI uses a system called CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) which provides for the storage and exchange of law enforcement DNA records on a national basis. CODIS consists of two separate indexes. The first is a “forensic” index containing DNA profiles from crime scene evidence. The second is an “offender” index, with DNA profiles of convicted offenders. It also allows for an electronic comparison of the DNA profiles from those two indexes. Often “hits” (matches) between DNA found at crime scenes and DNA profiles of convicted offenders are made. Analysts can also link multiple or unsolved crimes to a single perpetrator by comparing profiles in both indexes.
That’s right April 25th is National DNA Day. It was proclaimed by both the US Senate and the House of Representative in 2003 and while you might not have the day off you might want to stop and think about just what DNA has done for us.
DNA Day is a remembrance of the day in 1953 when a gound breaking article on the structure of DNA was published as well as the the day that the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003.
DNA has made big changes in our lives whether we know it or not. So this April take some time to think about DNA and some of it’s many uses:
1. In archeology DNA helps record genetic information of life on earth many centuries ago. This creates a data base that can be used to learn more about our planets past.
2. Genetic testing is used to determine the paternity or maternity of a child.
3. DNA testing can be used to help create a family tree or genealogical chart. Through genetic data bases one can trace lost relatives or find ancestors. Using both the Y chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA people can use DNA testing to establish ancestral lines (both remain unchanged for generations).
4. Prenatal genetic tests can help doctors determine whether or not the unborn fetus will have certain health problems.
5. DNA tests are also used to help solve murders and other crimes. In recent years many unsolved mysteries have been solved due to new ways of analysis as well as clearing many people found guilty of crimes that the did not commit.
6. DNA testing finds great use in the health field as DNA sometimes is the cause of rare medical conditions or heritable diseases.
7. Genetic testing is used in healths checks. For example it can be used to help determine the presence of viruses or cells that have mutated (causing cancer).
8. DNA tests are often used to reunite lost siblings or families or identify remains of the unknown. The genetics of a person leaves an indelible mark and this is used by police, military and authorities as well as individuals to confirm relationships.
9. DNA tests on new species or on material from outer space help scientists and researchers determine the origins of a species and where they stand with reference to known living forms.
The Department of Homeland Security, is studding the possible use of a scanner that could map out DNA in less than an hour. The device is portable and about the size of a desktop printer and is being built by Network Biosystems (or NetBio). The idea is to use the scanner on asylum seekers and refugees. Current technology enables determinations of relationships between parents and children or among siblings, but it does not effectively prove distant relationships.
The device has explosive potential for misuse. John Verdi, senior counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, stated that, “there are a lot of legal and constitutional hurdles that would have to be overcome for it to be lawfully used.” Not to mention the publics perception based on the reaction to the advanced X-ray devices deployed by the Transportation Security Administration last year.
As a matter of fact, the TSA made a preemptive statement after word of the device emerged. Curtis Burns stated on the company’s blog that the scanner is for use by a TSA sister agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which plans to use it to test for family relationships for foreigners applying for asylum or refugee status. In a direct statement Burns wrote, “TSA is not testing and has no plans to use any technology capable of testing DNA.”
DHS spokesman Chris Ortman said, ”the DHS Science and Technology Directorate expects to receive a prototype DNA analyzer device this summer to conduct a preliminary evaluation of whether this kind of technology could be considered for future use.” He went on to state that, ”at this time, there are no DHS customers, nor is there a timeline for deployment, for this kind of technology this is simply a preliminary test of how the technology performs.”
DHS would be required to meet the federal requirements for the protection of personally identifiable information stipulated by the Privacy Act of 1974. According to Verdi, ”those requirements and obligations have to be observed. The department would be well advised to vet this technology through its privacy committees and its internal privacy apparatus. In addition, there needs to be independent oversight of a program like this. There needs to be oversight by lawmakers and oversight by citizens who are experts in these areas of technology, health records, and security to ensure the agency is not collecting data, retaining data, or sharing data contrary to law and regulation.”