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Category Archives: DNA

Does “Body Recognition” Compare With DNA?

Does “Body Recognition” Compare With DNA?

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The forensic anatomy researchers at the University of Adelaide think this just might be the case. If so, this technique might be useful in identifying criminals and missing persons from photos and videos where facial features aren’t clearly shown.

Anthropomorphic measurements for identification aren’t new. In fact, they are over 100 years old. One of the pioneers in this endeavor was Alphonse Bertillon who devised a system hat became known as Bertillonage. It was the standard until fingerprints proved more reliable and discriminatory.

Alphonse Bertillon

Alphonse Bertillon

From HOWDUNNIT: FORENSICS:

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ANTHROPOMETRY AND BERTILLONAGE

Anthropometry (anthrop means “human”; metry means “to measure”) is defined as the study of human body measurements for use in anthropological classification and comparison. Simply put, it is the making of body measurements in order to compare individuals with each other.

Using anthropometry, French police officer Alphonse Bertillon (1853–1914) developed the first truly organized system for identifying individuals in 1882.

Believing that the human skeleton did not change in size from about age twenty until death and that each person’s measurements were unique, he created a system of body measurements that became known as bertillonage.

According to Bertillon, the odds of two people having the same bertillonage

measurements were 286 million to one. This belief led Bertillon to state that all people could be distinguished from one another by key measurements, such as height, seated height from head to seat, length and width of the head, right ear length, left little finger length, and width of the cheeks, among others. His greatest triumph came in February 1883, when he measured a thief named Dupont and compared his profile against his files of known criminals. He found that Dupont’s measurements matched a man named Martin. Dupont ultimately confessed that he was indeed Martin.

For many years, this system was accepted by many jurisdictions, but by the dawn of the twentieth century cracks began to appear. The measurements were inexact and subject to variation, depending upon who made them. And because the measurements in two people who were of the same size, weight, and body type varied by fractions of a centimeter, flaws quickly appeared and the system was soon discontinued. Its death knell tolled with the famous Will West case.

FORENSIC CASE FILES: THE WILL WEST CASE

Though landmark in its importance, this case was an odd comical coincidence.

On May 1, 1903, Will West came to Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas. The records

clerk apparently thought that the man looked familiar, but the new inmate denied ever having been in the prison before. As part of his intake examination, anthropometry was performed and officials were surprised to find that Will’s measurements exactly matched those of William West, another inmate at Leavenworth. The two men even looked eerily similar as if they were twins.

They were brought together into the same room, but each stated that they were not brothers. Fingerprints were then used to distinguish between the two Wills after which Leavenworth immediately dumped anthropometry and switched to a fingerprint-based system for identifying prisoners. New York’s Sing Sing prison followed a month later.

But was the similarity between Will and William West just a bizarre coincidence?

Not really. A report in the Journal of Police Science and Administration in 1980 revealed that the two actually were identical twins. They possessed many fingerprint similarities, nearly identical ear configurations (unusual in any circumstance except with identical twins), and each of the men wrote letters to the same brother, same five sisters, and same Uncle George. So, even though the brothers denied it, it seemed that they were related after all.

In 2010 and also in 2012, I posted on Bertillon’s technique:

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2009/10/10/fingerprints-and-the-forensic-world-part-2/

https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/handprints-and-stature-whats-old-is-now-new/

 

DNA Phenotyping: Real or Wishful Thinking?

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Genotype means what your DNA is like. Phenotype means what you look like. No doubt your genotype dictates much of your phenotype, but can your DNA be used to create your image? Maybe, maybe not.

For law enforcement and forensic scientists, the question becomes: Can investigators use a DNA sample to create an image of a suspect? The creators of the SNAPSHOT technology believe so. This complex system looks at the areas of the DNA sequence (genotype) that are known to affect our appearance (phenotype). By analyzing these sequences, they believe they can create a reasonable likeness of the person.

This is obviously a new technique and much more study is required, but if it proves to be useful, it would offer a great tool to law enforcement. Having a DNA sample is one thing, but creating a suspect’s image from that would be a critical bit of evidence in tracking and identifying perpetrators.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2015 in DNA

 

Q and A: Can DNA Be Used To Identify Multiple Assailants In a Three Decade Old Rape?

Q: Was it possible in 1969 (or even today for that matter) to determine if a woman found dead in sub-zero temperatures was raped by more than one assailant. If so, how could this be accomplished? Could a pathologist conclude that the woman was raped, as opposed to consensual intercourse, even if there is an absence of physical evidence such as bruising? What language would the pathologist employ when writing his conclusions?  Could evidence from 1969 be preserved (how would it be preserved?) and used today to identified suspects through DNA testing?

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A: DNA for testing comes from the genetic material found in the nuclei of the body’s cells. Essentially every cell in the body contains a nucleus. The notable exception is the Red Blood Cells (RBCs), which do not contain nuclei. But, White Blood Cells (WBCs) do. DNA testing of blood tests the DNA found in the nuclei of the WBCs.

Adequate DNA samples for testing have been gleaned from semen stains, bite marks, sweat, sputum, hair, and saliva. Even from the saliva left behind by licking a stamp or sealing an envelope. In the case of saliva from stamps or bites, the DNA tested comes from the cells that line the mouth (called buccal cells), which are constantly shed into the saliva. Hair does not contain cells and thus no DNA, but hair follicles do. A single hair follicle may yield enough DNA for testing.

As you can see, very small samples might be enough.

DNA is a fairly hardy molecule and survives time, freezing, drying, mixing with other materials, and many other adverse circumstances. It does not survive heating, however. Heat denatures, or destroys, the DNA strands. It is important to note that DNA testing does not require intact cells, merely intact DNA. This means that clotted blood, dried semen, and tissue fragments found under victims’ fingernails might yield enough DNA for conclusive testing.

The sub-zero temperatures in your scenario would serve to protect the DNA and would thus help the coroner by preserving better samples for his evaluation.

Yes, he would be able to determine that there had been two assailants, since each would have his own distinctive DNA pattern. The finding of two different DNA patterns in the semen sample obtained from the victim would prove this and when the suspects were apprehended, each could be matched to his own contribution to that sample. Mixing the semen would not alter this finding in any way since each DNA strand would be unchanged. It’s not like mixing blue paint with yellow paint to make green paint but rather like mixing a bunch of tiny blue beads with tiny yellow beads. From a distance, they might appear as though they had melted together to form a green mixture, but on close examination, each tiny bead would be seen to have remained intact and separate. DNA strands don’t “melt” into one another.

DNA can last for years, decades, even centuries. It has been found in Egyptian mummies, exhumed bodies, and samples stored from very old crimes. Recently, DNA evidence linked Gary Leon Ridgway to the famous string of prostitute murders know as the Green River Murders in Washington State. The DNA evidence connected him to murders that occurred in the early 1980s. This was possible because the DNA was handled and stored properly. Typically, the sample is dried and placed in a non-reactive container such as a glass vial.

The problem of determining if a rape occurred is a question for the jury. Rape is not a medical term, but rather a legal term. The coroner could determine if penetration occurred and if semen was present. If he found trauma to the vagina or to other body parts that might suggest the victim was struck or restrained, he might conclude that in his opinion the intercourse was not consensual. Still, it would require a judge or a jury to determine whether a rape occurred or not.

Published in Suspense Magazine December, 2014

 

Murder Solved By Clever DNA Testing of an Old Stamp

DNA PROFILE

DNA PROFILE

Here is an amazing and convoluted story that involves good police work and clever DNA testing, including the use of old and very small samples and familial DNA techniques (instrumental in identifying the serial killer known as the Grim Sleeper). More proof that criminals can run but they can’t hide. Not for long anyway.

 

Want To See Something Very Small? DNA Replication Visualized

This is cool. You probably remember from high school biology that DNA copies itself as the first step in cell division. This is how we grow and how we replace lost or damages cells.

 

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The replication process begins when the two strands of our double-stranded DNA “unzip.” That is, they split form one another. Then each stand rebuilds its complementary strand in a complex biological process. This yields two identical strands of double-stranded DNA, each of which becomes the nuclear material for the two identical cells when the division process is completed.

Current DNA analysis mirrors this natural phenomenon. State of the art DNA profiling employs the combination of the Polymerase Chain Reaction and Short Tandem Repeat analysis (PCR-STR). It’s the PCR portion that utilizes this natural process of replication, which is also called “amplification.”

Now it seems someone has used electron microscopy to visualize this process.

Amazing.

DNA Replication RCN.com: http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/D/DNAReplication.html

You Tube: DNA Replication Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27TxKoFU2Nw

How Stuff Works: DNA Replication: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/cellular-microscopic/dna3.htm

DNA Forensics: From RFLP to PCR-STR and Beyond: http://www.forensicmag.com/articles/2004/09/dna-forensics-rflp-pcr-str-and-beyond

 

 

Blue-eyed Mesolithic Caveman?

Was there an ancient Marlboro Man? Cool, swarthy. handsome?

DNA obtained from the wisdom tooth of the 7000-year-old remains of an European Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) hunter-gather has been analyzed and suggests that the man had dark skin and hair, blue eyes, and was likely lactose intolerant.

Artist Impression of Mesolithic Hunter-gatherer

Artist Impression of Mesolithic Hunter-gatherer

We are all familiar with DNA’s use in solving crimes by matching a suspect to a crime scene and, particularly mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), in ancestry investigations. DNA analysis can also often reveal sex, race, and hair and eye color.

Mesolithic Skull

Mesolithic Skull

Mesolithic Life in Europe Before the Curse of Farming: http://archaeology.about.com/od/mesolithicarchaic/qt/Mesolithic.htm

Historic Timeline: http://www.historiclandscape.co.uk/exploring_time.html

Stone Age Timelines: http://www.historiclandscape.co.uk/exploring_time.html

 
 

Jack The Ripper Identified?

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A new book titled Naming Jack The Ripper by Russell Edwards presents information that the author feels solves the famous Jack The Ripper case. The five murder-mutilations that occurred in London’s East End during 1888 have baffled criminologists for over a century. Several suspects have been identified but none have been proven to be the real Ripper. So who is Jack? According to Edwards, it’s Aaron Kosminski, a Polish immigrant who had “mental issues,” was 23 years old at the time of the killings, and who ultimately died in an insane asylum many years later at the age of 53. He never confessed or anything convenient like that, but he has long been one to the prime suspects.

So is he really Jack? Maybe. Here are some articles. Make up your own mind.

Daily Mail UK: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2746321/Jack-Ripper-unmasked-How-amateur-sleuth-used-DNA-breakthrough-identify-Britains-notorious-criminal-126-years-string-terrible-murders.html

Independent UK: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/has-jack-the-rippers-identity-really-been-revealed-using-dna-evidence-9717036.html

Mirror UK: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/jack-ripper-murder-mystery-solved-4177665

 

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