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The High Court decides: police can take DNA upon arrest

It’s a big, a huge victory for law enforcement agencies – a divided Supreme Court on Monday ruled that police can take a DNA sample from someone who has been arrested and charged (but not convicted) with a serious crime.

It was the narrowest of margins, but with a “score” of 5-4, the court reversed a decision last April by Maryland’s highest court that overturned the 2010 conviction and life sentence of Alonzo Jay King for a rape committed seven years earlier.

The matter of DNA testing is a touchy, delicate matter. DNA profiling (also called, DNA typing, or genetic fingerprinting) is a technique employed by forensic scientists to identify individuals based on DNA – it is one of the most accurate identification techniques (though it has its flaws).

Now, DNA samples can be taken if police have probable cause to detain a suspect facing charges relating to a serious offense, officials announce.

Taking a sample using a swab of the cheek is “like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said. Justice Kennedy is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.

This, law enforcers believe, will help solve hard to crack cases, and that this doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment. However, there is a strong opposition voiced against this measure.

Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative, joined Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, all from the liberal wing of the court in dissenting with this opinion – they claim that this opinion “taxes the credulity of the credulous”.

They explain that taking DNA is not really that standard of a process – when somebody is arrested, he is immediately fingerprinted and photographed, but DNA sampling is not the same thing.

The technique was used for several decades now. In the 1950s, Anna Anderson claimed that she was Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. Three decades later, DNA testing she was an impotor. In 1986, Richard Buckland was exonerated in a very strange case, despite having admitted to the rape and murder of a teenager near Leicester, the city where DNA profiling was first developed. In the same case, Colin Pitchfork was convicted on the same basis.

The rising influence of artificial intelligence in CSI and Law

Whether it’s cybercrimes, psychological profiling, or simply data analysis, artificial intelligence is starting to play a more and more important role in forensics and law. For lawyers especially, artificial intelligence has significantly made their jobs easier. Paralegal and junior lawyer tasks such as legal research are increasingly being undertaken by AI tools, freeing time for more complex tasks. The guys at developed this pretty interesting infographic, showing just how much of a difference AI makes.

Working as a DNA Lab Technician Job in the field of DNA testing, Forensic and Genetics

A technician, as the name denotes, is one who works within the vast and diversified field of technology. Those aspiring to work in a DNA testing laboratory and wishing to take on the post as a laboratory technician may find the following information indeed useful as it highlights the roles, skills and competencies required for such a job. Entering the world of the DNA technician offers a plethora of choice; you could consider clinical DNA testing, DNA banking, research genomics, police departments and forensic laboratories.

Image credits: My Future / Flickr

The rapid and dynamic world we currently live in means new technologies are constantly being developed to make people’s lives more comfortable. Scientists have not stopped working and this evolving and kaleidoscopic field because technology plays such a momentous role in our lives; this incessant need for discovery and development means laboratory technicians can specialize and hone in on particular fields or areas of technology, seeking employment in specialized laboratories depending on their interests, qualifications, aspirations and ambitions.

The laboratory technician is an integral part of the team working in these scientific facilities. Depending on the laboratories throughput, processing rate, the type of tests or analysis, the result turnaround time and a myriad of other factors, the DNA laboratory technician’s workload may vary considerably. For example, some laboratories such UK, homeDNAdirect, The Genetic Testing laboratory and several others offer express testing results which means that clients must have their DNA testing results in just two working days from receipt of samples. For Additional fees they may even offer clients an express new day testing service. This means that DNA analysts, scientists and technicians must work at a pace in order to deliver results in the promised time frames.

What is a laboratory technician?

Besides laboratory technicians, there are several others types of technicians including Emergency medical technician, Engineering technician, Pharmacy technician and veterinary technician. The term “laboratory technician” is in itself rather vague and actually is more of an umbrella term or general term that would refer to a range of posts in different laboratories. Even DNA testing laboratories are not all the same – for example, some laboratories might focus in forensic DNA testing or forensic toxicology whilst others may carry out genetic testing or simply direct-to-consumer DNA tests. The following are some further examples of posts that may require laboratory technicians:

  • Microbiology Clinical Laboratory Technician
  • IVF / assisted reproductive technology laboratory technician
  • Reproductive Endocrinology Laboratory Technician
  • Crime/DNA testing Technician

Some laboratory technicians are also employed by prisons to collect DNA samples (usually using oral swabs) from inmates and working on the analysis of samples collected at crime scenes. The DNA technician in such cases may even have access to in order to carry out comparisons of DNA profiles and helping to conclude the case.

The duties of the DNA laboratory technician

Different laboratories might have some requirements that differ from or are in additional to the below list. However, the duties below are those typically stipulated for such posts:

  • Overseeing and managing all day to day tasks and operations and ensuring the smooth running of the laboratory.
  • The technician will be directly involved in carrying out experiments and recording results from which conclusions and inferences can be made by themselves or senior lab analysts and scientists. The technician would directly be involved in the DNA extraction process, DNA cloning, and various tests in molecular biology such as the amplification of DNA using PCR polymerase chain reaction (PCR), DNA sequencing, STR analysis (Short Tandem Repeat testing) and others.
  • A technician would create templates and formats to present data and findings. He or she would also come up with or follow experimentation protocols and supervise those below them in the laboratory experiments (for example, undergraduate students)

Laboratory DNA technician requirements

Most laboratories will require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in science, chemistry, biology, medical technology or a related field– this is usually a minimum requirement. They may also request a further minimum number of years of experience in a DNA testing laboratory or crime/ forensic laboratory. This said, some laboratories, such as secondary school laboratories or even some university laboratories might simply require a diploma. In some posts, the DNA technician will only be responsible for collecting the samples and logging them into a system. They will not be involved in the actual analysis or handling of the samples beyond the sample collection. Again, whether a degree or a diploma is required will depend on where the call for applications is being issued from.

Bad forensic science: second leading cause of wrongful convictions

In 1985, a mistaken identification and an unreliable microscopic comparison of hair wrongly convicted Steven Avery  of raping a Manitowoc woman. In 2003, Avery was acquitted  after DNA testing eventually identified the real rapist as Gregory Allen. This case has  gained worldwide notoriety thanks to a show called “Making a Murderer,” a Netflix docu-series which documents the shortcomings and pitfalls of U.S. judicial system.

Steven Avery,flanked by two officers in this photo, was wrongfully convicted for rape in 1985. He was later proven innocent after spending eight years in prison. Credit: AP Steven Avery,flanked by two officers in this photo, was wrongfully convicted for rape in 1985. He was later proven innocent after spending eight years in prison. Credit: AP

Innocence Project’s Keith Findley, the lawyer who won Avery’s freedom, says the film exposes the limitations that wrongfully convicted Avery, but also freed him.

“Most lawyers go to law school cause they don’t do science. It’s sort of been just tradition that over the years that whatever the forensic analyst said everybody just sort of accepted it, and it’s only recently that we’ve begun to realize that it’s not that reliable,” Findley said.

“We’re fascinated by science. We’ve got all the CSI shows that make everybody believe that the science is instantaneous, flawless and sexy, and it’s none of those,” he adds.

The National Academy of Science said the only consistently reliable forensic science is DNA, yet many courts convict people based on a shoe print or bite mark, Avery says. As a forensic science resource, we at agree. While such forensic marking are excellent to aid in investigations helping find new leads, these shouldn’t be used alone in court as evidence.

The two faces of Mona Lisa: hidden portrait found beneath the masterpiece

A French scientists claims there’s another portrait etched beneath the Mona Lisa — one of the most famous paintings in the world.

Pascal Cotte was first allowed by the Louvre Museum to analyze the painting in 2004, since he convinced them that the work of art won’t be damaged or altered in any way. The technology he used, called Layer Amplification Method (LAM), is very new in the field. The device fires intense beams of photons, then a camera records the reflections of these beams that can permeate though the surface. Based on these measurements, Cotte was able to reconstruct how the various layers underneath the apparent surface of the painting looked like, as if da Vinci were there painting La Joconde again. “We can now analyse exactly what is happening inside the layers of the paint and we can peel like an onion all the layers of the painting. We can reconstruct all the chronology of the creation of the painting,” Cotte told the BBC.

Apparently, one onion peel suggests there’s a different portrayal of Mona Lisa  — different from the way we’ve come to know her, at least (though debatable, historians attribute her identity to Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a Florentine silk merchant). The analysis shows that there was no smile, the gaze is totally different, as was the outfit. These features were then painted over.

Mr. Cote, next to a digital reconstruction (left) of the different Mona Lisa portrait he found. Image: Brinkworth Films

Interestingly enough, Cotte has this theory which says that this earlier rendition was in fact the original Mona Lisa, a different person from the one we know today.

“The results shatter many myths and alter our vision of Leonardo’s masterpiece forever.

“When I finished the reconstruction of Lisa Gherardini, I was in front of the portrait and she is totally different to Mona Lisa today. This is not the same woman.”

If that’s true … well, I guess the Louvre can just throw away the museum label for the painting. Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford, isn’t that convinced. Instead, what we’re seeing, Kemp suggests, are simply the various stages a painting goes through until it reaches the artist’s last brush stroke.

“I do not think there are these discreet stages which represent different portraits. I see it as more or less a continuous process of evolution. I am absolutely convinced that the Mona Lisa is Lisa,” he told .

Cotte’s findings and other insights can be learned in the upcoming BBC 2 documentary, The Secrets of the Mona Lisa. It airs on BBC Two at 21:00 GMT on 9 December.

How Daylight saving time fights crime

When in 2007 Congress decided to extend the period daylight saving time, known as DST for short, by four weeks each year — three weeks in spring and one in fall — MIT researchers saw an opportunity:

“This [increase] produced a useful natural experiment for our paper which helped us isolate the effect of daylight from other seasonal factors that might affect crime,” authors Jennifer Doleac and Nicholas Sanders

Image via Wikipedia

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that criminals thrive in the dark, and now we know by exactly how much: when DST comes into effect in spring, researchers identified a 7% decrease from average in daily number of reported robberies, and a whopping 27% decrease during the now-brighter evening hour. They also found strong evidence of a decrease in the incidence of rape in the evening hours.

And, according to the paper, thos decrease during evening hours isn’t accompanied by an increase in the morning.

But wait…DST shifts an hour of darkness from sundown to sunrise so, how can there be a decrease in overall daily crime? It’s dark for just as long each day, only at different hours, it doesn’t make sense!

It turns out it’s laughably simple — criminals just aren’t morning people.

“Most street crime occurs in the evening around common commuting hours of 5 to 8 PM,” the authors write, “and more ambient light during typical high-crime hours makes it easier for victims and passers-by to see potential threats and later identify wrongdoers.”

And as every crime carries a social cost — pain, suffering and lingering trauma, but also including monetary losses suffered by the victim, medical costs and lost earnings for the victim, police funding, legal services and incarceration costs for the government — the team wanted to see how many pennies we can save if we extend the period when DST is in effect.

Previous studies have estimated the total social cost of a single robbery at somewhere around $42,000, and that of rape at $240,000.  When you add it all up, a three-week increase in DST in the spring of 2007 saved the country some $246 million, the authors estimate.

“Assuming a linear effect in other months, the implied social savings from a permanent, year-long change in ambient light would be almost 20 times higher,” they conclude — several billion dollars annually.

They do caution, however, that this is just an assumption and that more research would be needed to determine whether the drop in crime from enacting permanent DST would hold true year-round.

Their work only adds weight behind the push to permanently extend DST year-round, a tiny change that has the potential to save hundreds of lives just from alone, and and . On the flipside, it could negatively affect certain crops and the farmers that grow them, and there are concerns about leaving schoolkids waiting for buses in the dark hours of the morning (though maybe we could change that too).

Enjoyment of bitter foods linked with everyday sadism

A new study conducted by Innsbruck researchers found that people who enjoy bitter foods like olives, dark chocolate and broccoli are more likely to exhibit everyday sadism.

It’s often said that the foods you like can tell a lot about yourself, but can they tell things about your deeply emotional traits? Specifically, can they indicate things like narcissism or sadism? A team of psychologists set out to investigate that. Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitemeyer from the University of Innsbruck in Austria asked almost 1000 volunteers to self-rate their preference for bitterness and then set out to investigate whether they were more prone to so-called everyday sadism.

Everyday sadism joins with subclinical , , and to form the so-called “dark tetrad” of personality. Studies have also found that sadistic personality disorder is the personality disorder with the highest level of co-occurrence with other types of psychopathological disorders, but this is still a work in progress – there are still many things we don’t understand about this condition. What does this have to do with bitter foods? Well, apparently… it might have something to do with it.

Bitter foods are strange – or better put, it’s strange that we enjoy bitter foods. Few animals in the wild enjoy bitter foods, greatly preferring sweet ones; there is an evolutionary advantage here, as sweet foods are more likely to be rich in calories and nutrients, while bitterness is often a sign of toxicity. So it’s strange that we enjoy bitter foods – could this be a sign of abnormality?

Well, a causality has not been proven yet, but this study showed a strong, robust link; this doesn’t mean that everyone that enjoys some olives is a sadist – not in the least. But it does seem to indicate an interesting correlation.

“The present research has demonstrated that bitter taste preferences are associated with more pronounced malevolent personality traits, especially robustly with everyday sadism. The sample was a large community sample, thereby representing a wide section of the population. In establishing a robust link between taste preferences and personality traits, this research reveals further real-world behavioral correlates of antisocial personality traits.”


Another important point to make is that correlation doesn’t imply causality – this may be a coincidence (although it seems unlikely), or there may be another underlying factor that causes both these elements – or there could be something completely different that we haven’t yet discovered.

CIA pulled agents from Beijing after massive breach of federal personnel records

A number of CIA officers were pulled from the U.S. Embasy in Beijing as a precautionary measure taken in the wake of massive cybertheft of current and former federal employees’ personal data, officials said. Two major hacks into Office of Personnel Management were disclosed earlier this year, and this move can be seen as a direct consequence of the breach. Officials (privately) attribute the attacks to the Chinese government, but decided against publicly blaming them.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 29.
Image via washingtonpost

The documents were stolen in what senior U.S. officials brand as political espionage, intended to identify spies and people who would be receptive to bribes, susceptible to blackmail, or willing to be recruited as spies in order to provide useful information. And as OPM records included the background checks of State Department employees, all they had to do was compare them with the list of embassy personnel. Anyone not on the list could be a CIA officer, and exposed to immense risk. As such, CIA’s move was aimed at safeguarding officers whose affiliation might have been discovered after the hack, said officials on the condition of anonymity. The CIA officially declined to comment on the issue.

The disclosure comes as senior defense and intelligence officials on Tuesday tried — not always successfully — to explain to a committee of frustrated lawmakers their policy on deterring foreign governments, such as China, from carrying out cyber-intrusions.

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, sought to make a distinction between the OPM hacks and cybertheft of U.S. companies’ secrets to benefit another country’s industry. What happened in the OPM case, “as egregious as it was,” Clapper said, was not an attack: “Rather, it would be a form of theft or espionage.”

“We, too, practice cyberespionage and . . . we’re not bad at it,” he went on to say.

Seeking punishment on other countries for what their own intelligence services do as well wouldn’t be U.S’s best course of action, he believes.

“I think it’s a good idea to at least think about the old saw about how people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the committee’s chairman, argued against what he believed is not wise restraint, but rather a show of weakness.

“So it’s okay for them to steal our secrets that are most important because we live in a glass house? That is astounding.”

“I’m just saying that both nations engage in this,” Clapper concluded, referring to China and the United States.

Several lawmakers were not satisfied with the lack of a punishment for the OPM theft, despite Clapper’s explanation.

“This is a pretty significant issue that is going to impact millions of Americans,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). “But it seems to me they are not seeing a response right now from us, and therefore we’re going to continue to see bad behavior from the Chinese.”

At another point in the hearing, Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work seemed to stray off-message when he asked what response he would recommend if the Chinese were to carry off another OPM-like cybertheft.

“Sanctions? Retaliation?” asked Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

“Could be any of those, Senator. Maybe all of the above,” Work responded.

But in the end, it’s unlikely the administration will impose sanctions or retaliate officially for the OPM intrusions for the exact reasons that Clapper outlined. During the Cold War, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) noted, a foreign agent who was nabbed trying to steal U.S. secrets would be kicked out of the country if he or she had diplomatic cover or thrown in jail otherwise.

“[But in the OPM case] the U.S. government seems uncertain about what a proportioned response would look like,” he added.

The counterintelligence risks of the OPM breach are significant, Clapper said. He noted that the intelligence agencies do not know specifically whose records were taken. But the scale of the compromise — more than 22 million individuals’ records breached — “has very serious implications . . . from the standpoint of the intelligence community and the potential for identifying people” who may be undercover.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “this is a gift that’s going to keep on giving for years.”

Bacteria on shoes could be used in forensic investigations

According to , one of the most robust pillars of the forensic work, “Every contact leaves a trace”. In forensic investigations these traces are important for identifying suspects, understanding the circumstances of a crime or homicide. These clues or traces can be anything from tracks, to fingerprints, to DNA. But it’s not only humans or other animals that leave traces, tiny creatures do it too – the most numerous and most successful from an evolutionary standpoint. I’m refering to bacteria of course, which can be found on our shoes, on our clothes, on our skin and, of course, inside us. Billions of bacteria, some harmless and most beneficial, live inside making the microbiome. These are unique to every individual, depending on what he eats, drinks and other environmental factors. Some researchers think that tracking bacteria could become one of the most important tools for forensic investigators in their toolkit soon.

bacteria shoes Image: Economical Me

For instance, one of the most enticing research was made this year by a group at University of Huddersfield. They took samples from the shoes of 89 randomly selected participants from three different conferences. They found that the bacteria collected from  shoes could be grouped into three separate families, based on where the conferences took place. That’s because the bacteria signature is comprised of the core microbiome, inherent to each individual, and secondly of the bacteria that inhabits a distinct surface. When we walk, we scrap off bacteria from our homes, from the supermarket, office and so on. So, studying these bacteria not only can tell a forensic investigator who these ‘belong to’, but also where the person carrying the germs has been.

Besides shoes, the researchers also looked at mobile phones. These too hold populations that are distinct. What’s more, there are different patterns found on the front and the rear of a mobile phone, since the back mainly comes in contact with the hands, while the front with the face.

How could these findings be applied in the field? That’s a good question with no easy answer. Because we walk around all sorts of places, the bacterial signature changes constantly. It’s so volatile you could never use it as evidence in court, but it’s good enough to track down suspects or filter a list of suspects, so law enforcement can focus their resources on the likeliest persons. Read more about the study .

Using corpse feeding larvae to determine time of death

The non-biting blowfly Chrysomya megacephala is a common sight on dead bodies and forensic investigators use them to determine the time of death, referred to as the post mortem interval. A report from Tamil Nadu analyzed morphological features and molecular characterization through generation of DNA barcoding of the synanthropic (being ecologically associated with humans) derived form of C. megacephala for the first time. Their findings are significant in forensic sciences and were published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal.

This image shows the larva and pupa of Chrysomya megacephala.
Image via sciencedaily

Chrysomya megacephala is a tremendously abundant species and is used as fish bait in northern and south-west India. It is known to breed in human faeces, decomposed meat and fish as well as in discarded organic materials, and thrives on corpses in many parts of the world. This fly therefore serves as a potential vector of many diseases due to its close association with human dwellings and is considered important in medical, veterinary and forensic sciences.

Post mortem interval (PMI) determination is useful in cases of homicide, suicide and accidental or unattended death because of natural causes. An important aspect of calculating the PMI is the accurate and quick identification of the dipteran fly collected from a crime scene.

When determining PMI, behavior and developmental times of the specie is essential. The most common way currently used to identify dipteran flies is to study the adult stage under a compound microscope. This requires that the larvae collected at the scene be reared to maturity. The fly can be identified in its young, larval form but if the critical characteristics are small or vary ever so slightly, misidentification is possible.

However, morphological identification of the fly can be difficult. But identifying them genetically, by encoding collected DNA sequences of mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase gene subunit I (mtCOI), is a much more precise method. Three forms of C. megacephala are recognized presently, those being the normal form (nf), the synanthropic derived form (sdf) and the recently reported feral derived form (fdf).

Nf is confined to forests of South Pacific Islands while the sdf form has spread around the world from Papua New Guinea. Fdf, found in the forests of the Himalaya, India is morphologically intermediate between normal and synanthropic derived forms. However, the occurrence of the synanthropic derived form of C. megacephala has not been documented in the State of Tamil Nadu, India.

In this context, a report for the first time for C. megacephala (sdf) from Royapuram fishing harbour, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, South East India is significant. A colony of C. megacephala was established from numerous second and third instar larvae collected from decaying fishes. The life expectancy of this fly is 40-45 days. Freshly emerged adults from pupae were identified through morphological and molecular studies.