Catalyzing Solutions with Synthetic Biology

Computer-generated model of a virus.

The keynote speaker for this year’s International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI), Andrew Hessle, describes himself as a catalyst for big projects and ideas (1). In biology, catalysts are enzymes that alter the microenvironment and lower the energy of activation so that a chemical reaction that would proceed anyway happens at a much faster rate—making a reaction actually useful to the biological system in which it occurs.

In practical terms, Andrew Hessel is the person who helps us over our inertia. Instead of waiting for someone else, he sees a problem, gathers an interested group of people with diverse skills and perspectives, creates a microenvironment for these people to interact, and runs with them straight toward the problem. Boom. Reaction started.

One of the problems he has set his mind toward is that of cancer drug development. 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. 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

A Grateful Keynote Speaker, Not-So-Clever Criminals and Some World War I History: Highlights from the 26th International Symposium on Human Identification

nullThose of us lucky enough to attend the 26th International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI) can agree that the meeting was a resounding success once again this year—plenty of outstanding workshops, presentations and posters, great networking and learning opportunities and, of course, fun with new and existing friends and colleagues.

Now that we’ve all had a chance to recover from all of the excitement, let’s recap some of the meeting highlights.

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Highlights from ISHI25

ISHI25 logoLast week (September 29–October 2), I was one of almost 1,000 people who attended the 25th International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI25) in Phoenix, Arizona. This scientific meeting brings together DNA analysts from forensic and paternity labs, research scientists and others with an interest in DNA-based identification to learn about new technologies, policy and process changes, and current and future trends in DNA typing. There were so many great presentations and learning opportunities, how do I pick just a few of them to highlight?

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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?
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Lucy and Elvis in Las Vegas! A Summary of the 20th International Symposium on Human Identification

Symposium attendees pose with an Elvis impersonatorWhat a week it’s been, filled with great presentations, good company and, of course, Elvis impersonators. I attended the 20th International Symposium on Human Identification in Las Vegas this past week to gather feedback about the publication Profiles in DNA and collect ideas for future content. There were so many great talks and posters presented; where do I start?
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How Deer and Dog DNA Helped Solve Crimes: Interesting Cases from the International Symposium on Human Identification. Part II

In Part I of this series, I conveyed some of the more interesting cases to be presented at the International Symposium on Human Identification. That entry focused on the use of DNA typing to identify human perpetrators. However, amazing work has been done to advance the use of DNA typing to identify animals. In Part II of this series, I will describe some cases that use animal DNA evidence. Continue reading

DNA Evidence from Lip Prints and Used Cups: Interesting Cases from the International Symposium on Human Identification. Part I

Every year, hundreds of forensic analysts attend the International Symposium on Human Identification to learn about new advances in the field of DNA typing. The talks and posters are informative, and it is a great opportunity to network with DNA analysts from around the world. As the editor of Profiles in DNA, I am fortunate to attend the meeting to gather feedback about the publication and to get ideas for future content.

The information often is dense and the topics can get graphic, so midway through the conference many meeting attendees welcome a little lighter fare in the form of the Interesting Cases breakout session. In this session, forensic analysts and other scientists present some of their more unusual cases. In this series, I summarize a few of the more interesting (and less offensive) cases that have been presented in past years. Continue reading