A Cold Case, A Mystery, and DNA

“How do you like the name Jack?” the woman on the phone asked.

41731849 - soft focus and blurry of baby hands vintage style color effectOn April 26, 1964, a nurse came into the hospital room of Dora Fronczak, who had just given birth to her young son, Paul. She told Mrs. Fronczak that it was time to take the baby to the nursery (at that time newborns did not stay in the room with the moms), took the baby, and left. A few hours later, another nurse came into the room to take young Paul to the nursery. It was then that everyone realized a mother’s worst fear: Her infant had been stolen.

Authorities were able to determine how the woman left the hospital and that she got into a cab, but they were never able to find the woman. However in 1965, a small toddler-aged boy was found, abandoned outside a store in New Jersey. Blood tests were not inconsistent with him being Paul Fronczak (DNA testing was not available), and there were no other missing children cases in the area that were matches. The little boy was sent to Chicago as Paul Fronczak and the case was closed.

However, as an adult Paul Fronczak, began to suspect that the couple who raised him were not his biological parents, and in 2012 Paul underwent DNA analysis to test his suspicions. The results showed that indeed, he was not the biological son of Dora and Chester Fronczak. His next step was to enlist the help of a genetic genealogist to assist him in finding his true biological parents and his identity.

By conducting “familial searches” using commercially available DNA databases like 23andMe and AncestryDNA and many resources, the genealogist’s group found a match to his DNA on the east coast. Further ground work, discovered that this family was indeed Paul’s…now Jack.

The knowledge of Jack’s true identity, didn’t bring with it a joyous union of the adoptive family who had raised and loved Jack (as Paul) with the biological family who had pined for him over the years as many might imagine. Continue reading

Meet Brian Hayman, Program Manager on the Spectrum Team

29160613_lPromega will introduce the Spectrum CE System for forensic and paternity analysis. Building this system requires the efforts of many people from many disciplines–from our customers who have told us their needs to the engineers and scientists building the instrument and ensuring its performance. Periodically we will introduce our Promega Connections readers to a team member so that you can have a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes look at Spectrum CE System  and the people who are creating it (of course if you truly want to be the first to know, sign up at www.promega.com/spectrum to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Brian Hayman, Program Manager. Continue reading

Addressing the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog: Defining the Problem, Creating Solutions

general tweet from USA article

This post was contributed by  guest blogger Tara Luther in the Genetic Identity group at Promega.

In July 2015, USA Today formed a partnership with journalists from over 75 Gannett-owned newspapers and TEGNA television stations to “perform the most detailed nationwide inventory of untested rape kits ever.” This article told the stories of rape victims who had lost hope of seeing the perpetrators of their assaults ever being brought to justice, even though DNA evidence was collected at the crime and was waiting to be analyzed.

The journalists working on this story uncovered more than 70,000 neglected rape kits in an open-records campaign that covered more than 1,000 police agencies. The story notes that “despite its scope, the agency-by-agency count cover[ed] a fraction of the nation’s 18,000 police departments, suggesting the number of untested rape kits reach[ed] into the hundreds of thousands.”

tweet 3The USA Today effort led not only to national reporting but also to many local stories as well.

EndTheBackLog.org is a program sponsored by the Joyful Heart Foundation aimed at getting policy makers and prosecutors to address the large numbers of untested rape kits in the United States. They hope by researching to identify the extent of the backlog and publicizing that research they will begin a dialog at local, state and national levels that will lead to solutions for addressing it. The USA Today story and local stories have grown out of their efforts to call attention to this problem. Continue reading

Ten Validation Tips You Need to Know

exampleForensic lab validations can be intimidating, so Promega Technical Services Support and Validation teams shared these tips for making the process go more smoothly.

  1.  Prepare Your Lab. Make sure all of your all of your instrumentation (CEs, thermal cyclers, 7500s, centrifuges) and tools (pipettes, heat blocks) requiring calibration or maintenance are up to date.
  2.  Start with Fresh Reagents. Ensure you have all required reagents and that they are fresh before beginning your validation. This not only includes the chemistry being validated, but any preprocessing reagents or secondary reagents like, polymer, buffers, TE-4 or H2O.
  3. Develop a Plan. Before beginning a validation, take the time to create plate maps, calculate required reagent volumes, etc. This up-front planning may take some time initially, but will greatly improve your efficiency during testing.
  4. Create an Agenda. After a plan is developed, work through that plan and determine how and when samples will be created and run. Creating an agenda will hold you to a schedule for getting the testing done.
  5. Determine the Number of Samples Needed to Complete Your Validation. Look at your plan and see where samples can be used more than once.  The more a sample can be used, the less manipulation done to the sample and the more efficient you become.
  6. Select the Proper Samples for Your Validation. Samples should include those you know you’ll obtain results with be similar to the ones you’ll most likely be using, and your test samples should contain plenty of heterozygotes. When you are establishing important analysis parameters, like thresholds, poor sample choice may cause more problems and require troubleshooting after the chemistry is brought on-line.
  7. Perform a Fresh Quantitation of Your Samples. This will ensure the correct dilutions are prepared. Extracts that have been sitting for a long time may have evaporated or contain condensation, resulting in a different concentration than when first quantitated.
  8. Stay Organized. Keep the data generated in well-organized folders. Validations can contain a lot of samples, and keeping those data organized will help during the interpretation and report writing phase.
  9. Determine the Questions to Be Answered. While writing the report, determine the questions each study requires to be answered. Determining what specifically is required for each study will prevent you from calculating unnecessary data.  Do you need to calculate allele sizes of your reproducibility study samples when you showed precision with your ladder samples?
  10. Have fun! Remember, validations are not scary when approached in a methodical and logical fashion. You have been chosen to thoroughly test something that everyone in your laboratory will soon be using. Take pride in that responsibility and enjoy it.

Need more information about validation of DNA-typing products in the forensic laboratory? Check out the validation resources on the Promega web site for more information for the steps required to adopt a new product in your laboratory and the recommended steps that can help make your validation efforts less burdensome.

 

 

 

Meet Yaron Kidron, Principal Software Engineer and Member of the Spectrum Team

29160613_lPromega will introduce the Spectrum CE System for forensic and paternity analysis. Building this system requires the efforts of many people from many disciplines–from our customers who have told us their needs to the engineers and scientists building the instrument and ensuring its performance. Periodically we will introduce our Promega Connections readers to a team member so that you can have a sneak peak and behind-the-scenes look at Spectrum CE System  and the people who are creating it (of course if you truly want to be the first to know, sign up at www.promega.com/spectrum to receive regular, exclusive updates about Spectrum CE).

Today we introduce Yaron Kidron, Principal Software Engineer. Continue reading

Promega Tech Tour 2016: Preview of a Fascinating DNA Crime Story

“Is your life just like CSI?”

That is the prevailing question I’m asked when someone learns of my occupation as Deputy Sheriff Criminalist for the Contra Costa County (CA) Office of the Sheriff. Alas, my life is not quite so glamorous. It actually often entails entering formulas into an excel spreadsheet while being placed on hold as I order some pipette tips.

But, why does it have to be that way?

crime sceneI have attended my fair share of professional conferences and workshops and written numerous journal articles. As a forensic scientist I do believe in the importance of sharing data, new techniques, and new methodologies with my colleagues. Yet what I think is not highlighted enough is the one element that differentiates our field from any other scientific field—our involvement with the criminal justice system.  Every case we work on involves a mystery, a crime, a victim(s), and a suspect(s).  And while scientists in other fields typically only speak to other scientists, in my world, forensic scientists usually interact with a person in a black robe who has the power to strongly influence the outcome of a case.  These wildly frustrating, invigorating, and challenging cases are the most interesting things about our field, and yet we hardly share our stories.

I aim to change that.

I have been fortunate enough to be invited to speak at the 2016 Promega Tech Tour on April 12 at the CA Department of Justice Jan Bashinski DNA Laboratory in Richmond, CA.  The story I plan to share is about the small part I played in the case against Joseph Naso, the serial killer who preyed upon his victims from the 1950’s through the 1990’s in California. Continue reading

Vikings in the British Gene Pool

Are Viking genes in the British gene pool?

As I write this blog entry, the first day of presentations at the 22nd International Symposium on Human Identification is finishing up. [However, by the time you read this, the entire conference will be wrapped up.] As I expected, the first day was great, and the talks were very informative. As a person of Scandanavian descent who is married to a Brit, I was particularly intrigued by a talk given by Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester entitled “Fishing for Vikings in the Gene Pool of Britain”. Could marauders from my ancestors’ homeland have invaded my husband’s birthplace long ago and perhaps even contributed to his genetic makeup? DNA analysis might help answer that question. Continue reading

Join the Fun! Learn About Cutting-Edge Forensic Science. Attend ISHI.

International Symposium on Human Identification logo

Join me in Washington, D.C., for the 22nd ISHI.

Well, I just booked my plane tickets to Washington, DC., to attend the 22nd International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI), which is being held October 3–6. I am excited because every year ISHI is filled with great presentations and posters that represent the newest advances in forensic science. Plus, I have opportunities to interact with some of the greatest minds in the field. These opportunities include more formal interactions, such as asking questions of presenters during the general session and poster sessions and “talking shop” during the breaks, lunches and evening events, but also informal interactions like chatting between mouthfuls of Texas barbecue (16th and 21st ISHI), line dancing (17th ISHI in Nashville, Tennessee), sipping Pinot Noir at a Hollywood hotspot (18th and 19th ISHI) and having pictures taken with a fairly convincing Elvis impersonator (20th ISHI in Las Vegas, Nevada).

What are the hot topics that will have attendees buzzing this year?
Continue reading

Wanted: The Tomb of the Father of Modern Astronomy

What do Swedish war booty, the Frombork Cathedral in Poland, and Napoleon all have in common? Answer: Nicolaus Copernicus. While much is known about the cleric and astronomer, the location of his burial site and the identity of his possible remains were cloaked in mystery. Over the last 200 years, many have searched for Copernicus’s grave including Napoleon in 1807. While it is known the astronomer was buried at Frombork Cathedral in 1543, there are over 100 unmarked tombs; as a result, searchers have walked away frustrated and empty handed. Continue reading

Machu Picchu, Lost Civilizations, and the Resolving Power of DNA Analysis

450px-peru_machu_picchu_sunrise“We are on our way to Machu Picchu”. These were the words to which I awoke on a warm July morning in 1984 as I struggled to make sense of where I was and regain my memory of the previous week. My family and I had come to Peru on a mission to learn more about the Incas, a civilization that I knew little about. We had spent two days in the coast-hugging capital city of Lima, seen much of the colonial architecture and even experienced the full force of a midnight earthquake (which because of sheer exhaustion I had slept right through). We had taken a plane down the coast in the hope of visiting the smaller city of Arequipa, but cloud cover had forced us to fly several hundred miles further south to a town called Tacna and take an overnight taxi ride to Arequipa through the Peruvian desert. Continue reading