In the fall of 1989, a small group of forensic scientists, law enforcement officials and representatives from Promega Corporation gathered in Madison, Wisconsin, for the very first International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI). At the time, DNA typing was in its infancy and had not yet been validated as a forensic method. The available technology consisted of two methods: detection of restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) and variable number of tandem repeats (VNTRs). Promega had developed products based on both analytical methods, which essentially provide a DNA “fingerprint” or profile for each individual tested.
Among the attendees at that first symposium was Tom Callaghan, then a graduate student. That experience made a significant impact on his career path. Last week, at ISHI 30, he presented a session on rapid DNA testing. Dr. Callaghan currently serves as a Senior Biometric Scientist for the FBI. In 1999, he was instrumental in launching the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) and in 2003, he became the first CODIS Unit Chief.
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.
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.”
The USA Today effort led not only to national reporting but also to many local stories as well.
Those 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.
Last 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?
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).