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

Archive for September, 2010 Monthly Archives

Some experts believe that communities of color will be unfairly targeted with the widespread use of familial DNA testing to capture suspects.

The American Civil Liberties Union is concerned with the increased use of Familial DNA Testing in the criminal justice system.  In July the ALCU started the process to challenge the 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 in July 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 at this time.

Much interest in Familial DNA testing has been raised, since that testing process was successfully used in the apprehension of the Alleged Grim Sleeper serial killer.  Many Prosecutors are arguing that Familial DNA testing should be more widely used.

The technique not only raises issues of constitutionality and rights to privacy as claimed by the American Civil Liberties Union.  It also raises the question of fairness.

While in a traditional DNA forensic analysis, police take a DNA sample that has been recovered from a crime scene. That DNA is analyzed (a profile is created) and then the profile is compared to a database of DNA taken from convicted felons.  This search is looking for an exact match between a convicted felons’ DNA profile and the profile from the forensic sample.

Familial DNA looks not for an exact match but for partial matches.  They both use a database of convicted criminals DNA profile.  In Familial DNA testing if there are partial matches, then there is an assumption that the forensic sample may be from somebody who is related to the convicted felon whose DNA was a partial match. All the police have to do then is look at the person’s family (including obtaining DNA samples) and see if one of them might be the perpetrator.

The issue that the American Civil Liberties Union is that because Familial DNA testing relies on partial matching they are not completely accurate and that they widen the number of people who could fall under suspicion and be investigated by police.

The American Civil Liberties Union believes that because the criminal justice system disproportionately arrests and convicts people of color, they are therefore over-represented in the DNA databases used to conduct these test, leading to communities of color being adversely affected by familial searches which extend beyond the offender and include the offender’s family.

Attorney Daniel Grimm wrote in an article that, “the databank system is not racially neutral.  Over time this scenario risks constructing stigmatic myths about ethnicity and criminal conduct that can be devastating to those affected.”  The arcicle titled “The Demographics of Genetic Surveillance: Familial DNA Testing and the Hispanic Community” was published by the Columbia Law Review. Grimm goes on to point out that due in part to population growth, high arrest and conviction rates the Hispanic community will be affected more by Familial DNA testing than any other racial group.

While the ACLU worries about the over representation of minority communities professor Erin Murphy, with the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, is concerned with the possible contamination of samples, and intentionally malfeasant analysts.  According to Erin Murphy Familial DNA testing, relies not just on the genetic information being accurate, it also on a DNA analyst’s ability to reason, processes of elimination, subjective judgment calls and inferences.

The only fair solution is to have a universal DNA database, where all members of society have their DNA logged, or to to restrict familial searching to extremely serious cases where all other leads have been exhausted, according to Jennifer Mnookin a professor of law at UCLA.

In the Grim Sleeper case, California Attorney General Jerry Brown only allowed Familial DNA searching after all other investigative leads had been exhausted. Investigators did not knock on doors for all the possible matches.  Instead they refined their list of suspects based on additional DNA tests and circumstantial evidence.  Such as evidence that revealed the suspect lived in the area where the murders took place or that the suspect could have committed the crimes over the two decades which gave insight as to his possible age. In addition prior to going public, investigators obtained an exact DNA match between their Familial search suspect and the forensic evidence.

What worries organization like the ACLU and many others is that widespread use of Familial DNA testing is that there will be a lack of oversight and law enforcement will not take the same strong precautions  that were taken in the Grim Sleeper case.  According to reports, the Denver District Attorney has already used familial DNA testing in less serious crimes, such as car thefts and burglaries. Familial DNA testing is something that is in use and probably won’t be going away.  It is now up to the courts to determine how widely used the process becomes.

Among the cases that will be heard by the US Supreme Court this season is one from a Texas death row inmate claiming that he is innocent.  Arguments on this case are scheduled to be heard on October 13th.

Henry Skinner who was convicted of of the New Year’s Eve 1993 killings of his live-in girlfriend and her two adult sons is demanding authorities conduct more thorough DNA testing of evidence gathered at the crime scene.

Mr. Skinner’s firmly believes that re-testing certain DNA samples would clear him. The state of Texas’ position is thats he is not entitled to testing of evidence that was not analyzed before his 1995 trial. It also claims the wealth of forensic evidence available at the crime scene which was repeatedly reviewed by multiple state and federal courts points to his guilt.

This case would affect the entire justice system. There are many on going reports of convicts being found innocent with DNA evidence.  DNA testing is becoming more available, cheaper and faster.  Many other inmates have started to pushed for DNA testing on old evidence to prove their innocence. A Supreme Court ruling could make future such claims easier or harder to pursue.

Scientist are now saying that, Humans may have originally caught malaria from gorillas.  This is based on research that examined malaria parasites in great ape feces.  It was originally thought that the human malaria parasite split off from a chimpanzee parasite when humans and chimpanzees last had a common ancestor.

Scientists have found that the DNA of malaria from western gorilla was the most similar to human malaria parasites.  Scientists had assumed that when the evolutionary tree of humans split off from that of chimpanzees – around five to seven million years ago the malaria parasite had already jumped species.  But new evidence suggests human malaria is much newer.

Malaria disease that is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, this parasite is carried by mosquitoes and is contracted when a person is bit by a mosquito.  Over 800,000 people die from malaria each year in Africa.

To study the DNA of malaria in wild apes, you cannot use blood samples. So researchers collected 2,700 samples of faecal material from both western and eastern gorillas as well as from chimpanzees and bonobos.

They sequenced Plasmodium DNA from the faeces with techniques that use a large sample, and drew a genetic family tree to see which parasites were related.  ”When we did conventional sequencing, the tree didn’t make any sense, because each sample contained a mixture of parasites,” Said Dr Beatrice Hahn of the University of Birmingham, Alabama.

Researches diluted the DNA so to isolate one parasite’s genome which represented in a single sample  From there they amplified the DNA, meaning that they were able to separate the DNA from different species of the parasite much more effectively.

Comparing both methods they found that looking a the larger sampling tree method made much more sense.

They found that the human Plasmodium was not very closely related to chimpanzee Plasmodium,but that the human strain was very closely related to one out of three species of gorilla Plasmodium.  Specifically the strain from western gorillas in Central and West Africa.

Researchers discovered that there was more genetic variety in the gorilla parasites than in human parasites.

The study which was published in Nature, and while it provides a lot of answer researchers are going to investigate further.  They want to see exactly how different the gorilla and human parasites are and to determine if cross-infection between humans and gorillas may be going on currently.

Members of the research team are hunters and loggers in Cameroon, who spend a lot of time in the forests to determine whether these workers carry malaria parasites from the gorillas, which would suggest that new infections from other species can still happen.

Lockheed Martin and ZyGEM Corp. Ltd. are unveiling a new DNA analysis system that has potential to transform how law enforcement, homeland security and defense communities use DNA-based identification. The prototype, which is being called RapI.D.™, will be make an appearance at the 2010 Biometric Consortium Conference special session on Rapid DNA. This day-long session is being sponsored by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) division.

John Mears, director of Lockheed Martin Biometrics Solutions, said that “our law enforcement, homeland security and defense communities face a significant challenge in how quickly they can confirm an individual’s identity, our goal with the RapI.D.™ sample-to-answer DNA analysis device is to transform today’s DNA identification process from one that takes a great deal of training, sophisticated equipment and days or weeks to complete, into an affordable, on-site process that takes less than an hour.”

In collaboration with ZyGEM as a Lockheed Martin Technology Innovation Initiative, RapI.D.™ uses microfluidic research and development to speed up the DNA identification process.  The idea is that RapI.D.™ is essentially a small laboratory.  The Beta version is expected to be released for testing in select laboratories early next year.

ZyGem CEO Paul Kinnon said, “ZyGEM’s MicroLab technology has been developed with the goal of dramatically reducing today’s complex analytic approaches. The result is a compact platform that can analyze DNA simply, accurately and rapidly, enabling DNA identification to be used more widely and in many more settings. Forensic and other federal, state and local government applications represent critical near-term markets for our technology, and we are delighted to have Lockheed Martin as a key teammate in the development of our first systems.”

Recent Justice Department releases suggest that the backlog in processing forensic DNA has been increasing each year.  Some states are even increasing the funding for State Crime Labs hoping to tackle some of the back log.  The cost and complexity of current forensic DNA analysis methods has contributed to backlogs throughout the criminal justice system.

Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs (GTH-GA) launches forensic DNA World Map Project a database they hope will be essential in helping to create policy-makers with regards for international law enforcement using DNA databases.

The United States based company announced in Lyon, France the launch of the Forensic DNA World Map Project (WMP).  This is a new component of there popular DNAResource.com.  The DNAResources.com project monitors developments in forensic DNA policy.  DNAResource.com is the most comprehensive DNA policy website available

Over 33 countries have DNA database laws requiring the collection of DNA from criminal offenders.  Each law is different.  World Map Project’s (WMP) main purpose is to provide forensic scientists, criminal justice professionals and lawmakers in countries that have not establish DNA databases access to the policy, legislative, legal and technical knowledge-base from the 33 countries that currently do have these databases.

GTH-GA’s president, Tim Schellberg said, “the international sharing of this information is essential to ensure that policymakers have the data they need to develop DNA database legislation and policy that effectively solves crime while protecting privacy interests.”

Access to the WMP is currently limited to individuals pursuing the information for the purpose of developing and refining forensic DNA policy.  WMP is free and is conveniently organized by country.  This allows users to compare their database plans and forensic DNA policies with those countries who already have DNA databases in place.  Users may request additional country-specific information.

The remains of Army Sgt. Charles Patterson Whitler, found in North Korea and identified through family DNA samples, was interred with full military honors at his hometown of Cloverport in Breckinridge County near Elizabethtown, Kentucky this summer.

Whitler a member of 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, was 22  when on November 2, 1950 he went missing in the area around Unsan, North Korea. Whitler, had just returned to duty from an earlier wound.  Until June 2010 Whitler’s family had no idea what had actually happened to him.

U.S. military officials say that Whitler was in a group of 10 U.S. soldiers captured by Chinese troops. It appears that all 10 U.S. soldiers handed over to North Korean soldiers, took them to a nearby farm field and gunned them down. Only three Americans survived and only one of them has told their story publicly.

A U.S.-North Korea search team discovered remains of the seven victims in a mass grave in 2004. Experts from the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command then began the process of DNA identification.  In addition to Whitler the remains of Cpl. Harry Reeve have also been identified at this time.

“I remember the day we heard he was missing like it was yesterday,” said Mary K. Mitchell, Whitler’s youngest sister.  Mitchell who was only 5 at the time, remembers that day clearly because that same evening her father died of a heart attack.

About a 10 years, Mitchell, hoping to find clues to her brother’s whereabouts, began searching military records and talking with Korean War veterans. She also donated a sample of her DNA, so that if remains were ever found they could be identified. Another sister, Sandra Robinson, now deceased, also had given a DNA sample. Mitchell said it was Robinson’s DNA that forensic experts ultimately used to identify Whitler.

Mary was notified in June that Charles Whitler remains had been identified.  She said, ”I was so stunned, it’s still hard to get my mind around it.  The fact that Pat is going to be brought home and buried beside his mother and father after so long, it’s just incredible. All I really wanted was to learn what had happened. I never dreamed they would actually find him.”

While many MIA families have given samples, the Kentucky Division of Veterans Affairs says it still has no DNA on file for 12 Kentuckians missing in Korea.  The are hoping that the news of these sucessfully identified individuals will encorage more families to give samples.

Giving a sample is simple and painless. For information go to Kentucky Veterans Programs

Read more: Kentucky Identify Remains

By Kevin Camilleri

DNA paternity testing of related potential fathers is fairly common, although in these types of paternity cases it is more difficult to prove paternity beyond any shadow of a doubt. It is always best to included both potential father in this type of test.

While positive DNA tests can be accepted as positive evidence of paternity in the most cases due the statistical improbability of potential fathers having the same DNA profiles, if the possible fathers are related  they are more likely to have similar DNA profiles. It isn’t uncommon for brothers to be involved in a parentage dispute, or even for the mother to have a DNA test carried out privately to determine which is the father of her child.

The Legal Aspects

Where DNA paternity testing is to be used in evidence, courts will generally insist on a legal paternity test where the collection of the sampling is carried out by an authorized professional and the identity of the subject legally determined though an ID check and photo documentation. Home DNA testing, or DNA tests on samples presented by the subject, are not admissible as evidence. The probability of paternity accepted as definitive proof varies from state to state, although most states require a probability of 99%.

Such probability is determined largely by the DNA, and the manner the test is preformed. A good DNA test looks at 16 genetic markers, it would run all tests twice independent of each other, and should guarantee resutls of 99.9+%. It also depends on whether the sample of the Mother is included in the testing or not, as this will help to obtain a much higher level of probability.

Common DNA between Family Members

DNA tests on related potential fathers are no different from those carried out on any other subject: it is the results that could potentially create problems. Take the case of first cousins: they share 12.5% of their DNA and so it will be more difficult to prove parentage. This sharing of DNA increases to 25% for uncles, nephews and half-brothers, and to 50% for sons, fathers and brothers of the person being tested.

DNA paternity testing on different members of the same family is not an uncommon situation, and can occur for a number of reasons, including:

a) Pregnancies arising from consensual and non-consensual relationships with related men.

b) Two family members each claiming parentage, whether or not the mother is claiming one or neither to be the father.

c) A brother desiring confirmation that he is the parent.

d) The mother, or potential mother, having a private test to assure herself as to who is the father.

e) A grown child confirming parentage, particularly where an inheritance could be involved.

There are others, but these are common reasons for legal and home DNA tests being carried out where potential fathers are related. Standard DNA paternity testing statistics are based upon unrelated members of the public, and unless the laboratory carrying out the DNA testing has been informed of the relationship, the test results could be misinterpreted.  Most reputable DNA testing companies will recommend that you preform a paternity test with each of the potential fathers to verify which would be a closer match to the child.

The Case of Identical Twins

Nevertheless, it is possible to test additional DNA markers if any of the above relationships are known, but not in one specific case. This is the case of identical twins.  Fraternal twins occur when two eggs are fertilized by two sperm, and are no more alike genetically than were they siblings born years apart. Identical twins, however, are formed when one egg is fertilized by one sperm and then splits into two halves within the first 14 days for no known reason.

These twins share an identical DNA their DNA profiles would be indistinguishable from one another. There is no test that can determine which is the biological father of a child. Unless one is excluded for some reason, either could be the father and that is all that DNA testing can prove. The court would have to disregard DNA results and use other means to determine paternity.

Old-fashioned policing, therefore, still has a part to play where the related potential fathers are identical twins. Apart from this specific case, DNA paternity tests are not entirely foolproof since they rely on probability, but are virtually conclusive where you simply want confirmation of paternity. In such a case, a likelihood of 1 in a 1000 is a virtual certainty and where confirmation is required between a limited number of candidates, a 99.9% DNA genetic testing result is legal confirmation.

By Peter Vine

DNA paternity testing is the use of DNA technology to provide information about the relationship between people usually  this means the parentage of an individual (usually a child). The mother of the child is rarely in question, most of the time DNA testing is requested to determine the father of a child.

DNA is inherited from our parents, with half coming from the mother, and the other half from the father. This means that when the mother is not in dispute it is best to include her in the DNA paternity test so that you can eliminate the DNA the child inherited from her, this will leave only the DNA that came from the biological father.

The process is relatively simple in that the final DNA profile of the child is composed of a series of bands which can only come from the two parents. If the mother’s bands are deducted from the child profile the remainder must come from the biological father.  Any male that may consider himself the father can have a DNA profile produced and compared against the remaining bands in the child’s profile.

There can only be two outcomes from this type of comparison. The first is an ‘exclusion’ scenario where the remaining bands in the child’s profile could not have come from the sample obtained from the alleged father.  An exclusion eliminates the possibility of this individual being the biological father of the child.  An exclusion is 100% accurate. The second outcome is an ‘inclusion’ in this scenario the remaining bands in the child’s profile could all be accounted for by comparison with the alleged father. If this is the case the strength of the match needs to be assessed by a DNA interpretation expert who will provide a degree of certainty associated with the likelihood that the alleged male is the biological father of the child.  This means that there is no yes answer but rather a probability of paternity typically it is 99.9+%.

Before you purchase any Paternity DNA testing you should be sure you have clear answers to the following 4 key questions:

1. Has the DNA testing facility been accredited by a validated external body such as the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB). If the answer is no, do not have your testing done by this company, you may not be able to rely on the results.

2. Does the company carrying out the DNA testing have a thorough track-record in this area of work? Have they proved their technology in court?  DNA profile interpretation can be a tricky business, and there is a lot at stake when you commission a DNA test, and you want to be able to rely on your service provider.

3. What degree of certainty does the company guarantee in relation to the results of the tests? An exclusion should be 100% with an inclusion at, at least 99.9+% confidence levels. These are the figures that are expected in most courts of law.

4. Does the internal quality standard require duplication of all results before they are reported to the customer? Or more simply put do they run all tests twice? This is an industry standard requirement which is often overlooked by some of the ‘cheaper’ DNA testing providers.

If the answer to any of these questions is unclear, my strong advice is to find an alternative provider. You do not want to trust such an important and life changing test to a company that does not guarantee a top quality product, with excellent customer care back-up.

For years, pregnant and nursing women have been warned to limit the amount of fish they eat.  This is because many marine species may contain high levels of mercury, which endangers development in newborns and fetuses. Recently, National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, a children’s health group challenged the this conventional wisdom.  National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition are advising pregnant women and nursing mothers to eat more fish so as to ensure optimal brain development in their babies.

Due to the fear or mercury contamination, many pregnant women avoid seafood altogether. That may actually harm newborns, according to some scientists. (John McConnico for The New York Times) What’s going on here? Currently, the Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women to limit their weekly seafood consumption to no more than 12 ounces, or about two servings, per week. In addition they recommend staying away from fish that are meat eating (shark, tuna, etc.) as they tend to have higher levels of mercury. Notice they do not say not to eat fish just to watch what type and how much you consume.

The newest recommendation from the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, a nonprofit group that focuses on childhood health issues. That group’s scientific advisers say that pregnant women and nursing mothers should eat at least 12 ounces of fish per week. Although both recommendations acknowledge that pregnant women can safely eat about two servings a week, fears of mercury contamination in seafood have prompted many pregnant women to forgo fish entirely neither organization recommends that.

And here is the issue that pregnant women face: an increasing number of studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids, (found mostly in fish) are essential to brain development in fetuses and newborns. A report in The Lancet medical journal, concluded that women who had eaten more than 12 ounces of fish per week during pregnancy produced better developed, more intelligent children. “Advice that limits seafood consumption might reduce the intake of nutrients necessary for optimum neurological development,” wrote scientists from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“The real problem here are the women who are just eliminating fish from their diet,” said Judy Meehan, executive director of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition. “Eating 12 ounces is a very safe, smart move, and nobody is disputing that.’’ While none of the research cited in the coalition’s recommendations has been funded by the fish industry, the coalition is using a grant from the National Fisheries Institute, a seafood industry group, to fund its educational campaign, according to Ms. Meehan.

For women who want the health benefits but worry about mercury and other toxins, the wisest course is to choose fish with the lowest levels of mercury. A recent report in The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that the health benefits are likely greatest from such oily fish as salmon, herring and sardines — which are all generally low in mercury anyway. Among the fish to avoid are shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, all of which may contain high levels of mercury and seem to be lower in omega 3.

In a study published on September 2nd in HealthDay News the question of why some people are more likely to become addicted to opioid painkillers (like morphine, codeine or oxycodone) has now been partially unraveled by the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania.

For the study, Geisinger Health System researchers interviewed and analyzed DNA from 705 patients with back pain who were prescribed some kind of opioid painkillers for more than 90 days.

Geisinger Health System researchers found that the group most vulnerable to addiction has four main risk factors in common: age (being younger than 65); a history of depression; prior drug abuse; and using psychiatric medications. Painkiller addiction rates among patients with these factors are as high as 26 percent.

The researchers also looked at a gene located at chromosome 15 that had been linked with alcohol, cocaine and nicotine addiction. This study indicates that genetic mutations on a gene cluster on chromosome 15 may also be associated with opioid addiction.

According to Joseph Boscarino, an epidemiologist and a senior investigator at Geising’s Center for Health Research, “these findings suggest that patients with pre-existing risk factors are more likely to become addicted to painkillers, providing the foundation for further clinical evaluation.”  He Added, “by assessing patients in chronic pain for these risk factors before prescribing painkillers, doctors will be better able to treat their patients’ pain without the potential for future drug addiction.”