We shared in laughter and tears. We tempered our scientific pursuit of the truth with the story of an unimaginably strong survivor of rape. We witnessed the struggles of a man trying to find his identity and the joy of being reunited with real family members after 30 years of lies. I find it hard to succinctly describe to others what my first ISHI conference was like. There is perhaps nothing more personal than our own genetic identities. This conference didn’t shy away from the raw emotions that encompass the human experience. We define ourselves as employees of this company or researchers at that institution, competing for attention and funding, yet this conference reveals how limiting these preconceptions may be.
The desire to make the world a better place unites us. I spoke with analysts for hours about the challenges of overcoming the sexual assault kit backlog, I made a fool of myself dancing to musical bingo with new friends from the Philippines and Brazil, and I was inspired by the casual musings of a video journalist. We are sure to see countless more ethical debates on how we should be using DNA (or proteins!) for human identification. The field of science relies on the open sharing and exploration of new ideas, and as admittedly biased as I am to the conveniences of the digital age, there has never been a better time to come together in person.
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.
The 27th annual International Symposium on Human Identification—ISHI 27—will be held September 26-29 in Minneapolis, MN. One of the largest conventions focused on forensic DNA analysis, ISHI features presentations on the latest advances, interesting cases and key issues relevant to the field. In anticipation of this years’ conference, here is a preview of one talk, provided by Dr. Mitchell Holland of Penn State University (Dr. Holland will also be participating in the June 28 TechTour in New York). The focus of Dr. Holland’s research is mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis and its application to human identification. At ISHI, he will be presenting his recent work using NextGen sequencing to analyze mtDNA heteroplasmy.
Heteroplasmy is the presence of more than one mitochondrial genome within an individual. Perhaps the most famous example of the effect of mtDNA heteroplasmy on a forensic investigation is the identification of the remains of Tsar Nicholas II. mtDNA from bones discovered in a mass grave in 1991, was identical in sequence to known relatives of the Tsar except at one position, where there was a mixture of matching (T) and mismatching (C) bases. Lingering doubt caused by this result meant that confirmation of the authenticity of the remains was delayed. Ultimately mtDNA analysis provided the needed evidence for identification, showing that the same heteroplasmy was present in mtDNA extracted from bones of the Tsar’s brother, confirming the Tsar’s identity (Ivanov et al., (1996) Nature Genetics12(4), 417-20).
The Dozier School for Boys had cemeteries instead of playgrounds.
The stories of abuses that took place at the reformative school in Marianna, Florida are nothing short of a plot for the TV series American Horror Story. The beatings and other punishments administered to students throughout the school’s 111-year history contributed to the deaths for some of the nearly 100 deceased.