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News and insights in the world of DNA and genetics for paternity, immigration and forensics

Archive for July, 2010 Monthly Archives

The ACLU is challenging a California law that requires police to collect the DNA of all suspected felons.  Michael Risher an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer told the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco court Tuesday that the government should not be allowed to take the “genetic blueprint” of someone who hasn’t been convicted of a crime.  One-third of the 300,000 Californians arrested on felony charges each year are never convicted.  This does not stop the police from talking a DNA sample.

Risher said the voter-approved law allowing DNA testing after all felony arrests sacrifices privacy in exchange for questionable gains in identifying criminals.  The three-judge panel questioned whether DNA sampling is a major invasion of privacy.  They did, however, indicated that the California law may be vulnerable because of a year-old ruling in another case.  The case in question was decided by the federal appeals court in June 2009 ruling in a case from Las Vegas. In that case 2-1 decision said police violated the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches when they extracted DNA from a man who was under arrest – but was not suspected of any other crimes – so they could enter it into a criminal database.

Judge Milan Smith said DNA testing, taken with a swab from the inner cheek, is no more intrusive than fingerprinting and is “a really good way of identifying people.” He said Risher was asking government officials to be “Luddites (who) can’t use modern technology.”

If the California case is similar, “our hands are tied” and the court must overturn the law, Smith told Deputy Attorney General Daniel Powell, the state’s lawyer. Smith said the state would have to ask the full 27-judge court to order a new hearing before a larger panel, which would have the authority to overturn the Nevada ruling.

Powell argued that the current case is different because California has a law that authorizes post-arrest DNA testing and Nevada does not. He also said the California law protects privacy by making it a crime to release DNA information to anyone but a law enforcement officer.

In a news conference before Tuesday’s hearing, Attorney General Jerry Brown proclaimed the benefits of DNA evidence as “the fingerprint of the 21st century” and a powerful crime-fighting weapon. “This is no more a violation of privacy than you have when you give up your fingerprints,” he said.

The opinions in this article are not necessarily those of DNA Identifiers, the Blog Owners or Authors.

An important arrest was made Wednesday June 7, 2010 – 57 year old  Lonnie David Franklin Jr. has been charged with 10 counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. The murders that Franklin is charged with include one man and the rest all young African-American women. The “Grim Sleeper” moniker was applied by law enforcement due to a long, 14 year lull between murders from 1988 to 2002. Franklin was found using a controversial search method called the Familial DNA Matching.

Franklin was reportedly a mechanic for a Los Angeles Police Department station near the center of the 1980’s murder spree. The majority of the killings were confined to a 2 mile radius in South Los Angeles, just a few miles east of the Hollywood Park Race Track. Several detectives, led by Dennis Kilcoyne, have been working full time on this case for years. ABC News reports that, although there were many suspects identified, they failed to zero in on Franklin. A newly adopted technique called Familial DNA Matching provided the much needed clues to this investigation.

About Familial DNA Matching: In April of 2008, California adopted an aggressive approach to a controversial crime fighting technique known as familial or “partial match” DNA searching. The policy is aimed at identifying a suspect through DNA collected at a crime scene by looking for potential relatives in the California state’s database. State Atty. General, Jerry Brown said the new approach was justified by violent crime plaguing California (2000 homicides per year), and said, “It would be used only when other leads had been exhausted”.

Partial or familial DNA matching has been used in Britain for years with a 10-14% rate of catching perpetrators. The United States government employed a variation of this process in Kansas supporting the apprehension of Dennis Radar, the self described “BTK” serial killer.

In the case of Mr. Franklin, the suspect’s son was arrested and convicted in a felony weapons charge and swabbed for DNA in 2009. After being added to the California database, detectives were alerted regarding a partial match to evidence found at the “Grim Sleeper” crime scenes. Upon investigation of Franklin’s relatives a match was found to Lonnie Franklin.

Leicester Bryce Stovell a solo legal practitioner in the District of Columbia,  alleges that he is the father of LeBron James and that the athlete and his family have been involved in a cover-up to deny paternity by committing fraud and misrepresentation.  He has  filed the lawsuit on his own behalf and is asking for unspecified millions of dollars in damages.

In the complaint, filed June 23, Stovell says, “I recently have concluded that a comprehensive, sophisticated and well-funded effort might well have been underway for quite some time, perhaps beginning in its present form as early as when defendant LeBron James was in high school, to frustrate identification of his real father, and that there is a likelihood that the father in question is me.”

The lawsuit claims Stovell met James’ mother, Gloria, in a Washington bar and restaurant in 1984, where she was visiting from Ohio. She was 16 at the time, Stovell says, and they had sex only once.  Stovell says he was informed by Gloria James months later that she was pregnant. He claims she told him the child would be named LeBron.

Stovell says he has been trying for three years to establish paternity. Public records show Stovell is a former government attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He filed a lawsuit in 2002 against the agency, alleging racial discrimination. Federal court records show the case was settled when the commission paid him $230,000, while not admitting fault.

A call to LeBron James’ attorney, Frederick Nance of Cleveland, Ohio, was not immediately returned.

Researchers may have discovered a genetic equivalent  of the Fountain of Youth hidden in the DNA of centenarians.

Only 1 in 6,000 people reaches the century mark and just 1 in 7 million lives to be a supercentenarian (someone who is 110 or older). A new study, published online in Science, suggests that more people may have the right genetic stuff for extreme longevity.Click here to find out more!

This new study, looked at genetic markers called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP), in 1,055 centenarians and 1,267 younger people, all of European descent. The researchers found 150 genetic SNP variants which were linked to extreme longevity.

At first, the team identified only 33 SNPs found more often in people aged 90 to 114 years but not in a control group made up of people who will presumably live an average lifespan.  Thomas Perls, a geriatrician at Boston University School of Medicine who coauthored the new study, the researchers felt that they were still missing part of the story.

Biostatistician Paola Sebastiani of the Boston University School of Public Health devised a different statistical method to identify additional SNPs that would improve the team’s ability to predict longevity. The team tested their predictions on a separate group of centenarians and controls. With the 150 SNPs, the researchers could correctly predict who was a centenarian 77 percent of the time.

“77 percent is a very high accuracy for a genetic model, which means that the traits that we are looking at have a very strong genetic base,” Sebastiani says. On the other hand, the 150 SNPs can’t explain why the remaining 23 percent of centenarians in the study have reached such ripe old ages. It could mean that those people have other, rare genetic variants or lifestyles responsible for their longevity or some combination of the two, she says.

Extrapolating these results to try to predict how long the average person will live would be a mistake, says Nicholas Schork, a statistical geneticist at the Scripps Translational Science Institute and the Scripps Research Institute, both in La Jolla, Calif.  “They’ve identified markers for something, but what that something is remains a mystery,” Schork says. How the combination of genetic markers work together to extend health and life “is the zillion-dollar question.”

Don’t expect the genetic data to lead to a Methuselah pill, Perls says.  “I look at the complexity of this puzzle and feel very strongly that this will not lead to treatments that will get a lot of people to become centenarians,” he says. But the research could conceivably lead to treatments that delay diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Supercentenarians (someone who is 110 or older) had nearly all of the longevity markers. But most of the over-100 crowd carried different combinations of SNPs that fell into one or more of 19 different genetic profiles. These results indicate that there are many different genetic combinations to longevity and that many different biological processes are involved, Sebastiani says.

The researchers had expected that centenarians would lack disease-associated variants, but that isn’t the case. Some of the genetic profiles correlated with extreme delays in the onset of diseases such as dementia, heart disease or cancer. Others seem to allow centenarians to withstand the effects of such diseases.

About 15 percent of people in the general population may actually have what it takes genetically to reach 100, says Perls. “If they’re not hit by a bus, if they’re not in a war, if they haven’t had some other accident happen, maybe they get to fulfill that,” he says. “Now, a bunch of those people may also need to not smoke and not be obese and a number of important lifestyle factors as well.”

Sebastiani says, “One can conjecture that genetically we’re built to live longer,” and longer life expectancies associated with improved public health measures seem to bear that out.

Other studies have shown that genetics account for only 20 percent to 30 percent of a person’s chances of living beyond age 85. Environmental factors, including lifestyle choices such as diet, smoking and exercise habits, are still the most important determinants of longevity.

I just came across an article distributed by CNN announcing the above topic, which made me think about the use of DNA.

By Dana Rosenblatt, Special Investigations Unit; June 23, 2010 2:41 p.m. EDT

It’s a familiar scenario: When clues are scarce, witnesses won’t talk and police are stymied, they turn to DNA. The genetic building blocks can identify a victim, implicate a suspect or clear the wrongly accused. Now the science is expanding beyond human beings.

Dogfighting is an underground “blood sport” that is difficult to track, and it’s often impossible to prove a case against suspects accused of promoting and participating in dogfights, said Dr. Melinda Merck, senior director of veterinary forensic sciences with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

But because the dogs are highly inbred for their fighting qualities, their bloodlines may provide the evidence investigators need.

The Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) is similar to the human DNA index system used by the FBI. And, it’s ready to be used to investigate and prosecute dogfighting operations, Merck said.

“If you got the dogs, you got the DNA,” Merck said. “I think it’s going to be interesting to see how this database enhances criminal cases. It should make dog-fighters very nervous.”

For the Full Story see: CNN

This is amazing!  The amount of information that is contained in DNA and its many uses just seems to be growing a such a fast rate.  But this raises the question of whether the laws are able to keep up with those advances.  This article seems to indicate that the laws are able to keep up and even take advantage of this new technology in a very positive way.