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

Archive for September, 2011 Monthly Archives

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.

The idea of creating genetic passports for, plants, animals, microorganisms was a very hot topic between 2007 and looked like it was on it’s way to becoming a common, standard practice. However, at this time, for the most part, these burgeoning ideas seem to have been put on hold.

The idea to create genetic passports was suggested by the Technical Expert Group of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Lima, Peru and was backed by a group of experts from over 25 countries. The proposal, which stated that 150 countries, who signed a 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) treaty, would have sovereignty over the genetic resources originating within their borders and could control the use of their genetic resources outside of their borders. They would do so by providing specific information such as the material’s origin, its characteristics and the institutions responsible for providing and/or using it.

While the proposal was widely praised and supported, it does not appear that it was ever adapted by the Convention on Biological Diversity.  In fact, in a paper entitled “Genetic Diversity and Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources” the author(s) state that:

Accurate passport and characterization data are the first requirements, but users of plant genetic resources, particularly plant breeders, have also emphasized the need for improved evaluation of accessions. Evaluation is a complex process and there is serious backlog in most collections.

However, you can be assured that genetic passports for non-human organisms is on it’s way even if it is not currently implemented. Were there is a will, there is a way.

 

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