With the Casey Anthony case verdict, and recent capture of Whitey Bulger in the news, my attention is drawn to the important service forensic scientists do to society – promoting justice. The National Academy of Sciences put out a report in 2009, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.
The report details the challenges faced in forensic science, and makes recommendations, which aim for universal standards and establishing best practice. The major challenge for forensic scientists analyzing DNA from a crime scene, is getting useful data from limited and poor quality samples.
There are several research avenues where epigenetics can aid forensic science. While genetic information identifies an individual, the epigenetic information can add informative layers to that evidence. Here are some examples.
- Determining tissue or bodily fluid origin of crime scene DNA. Potential forensic application of DNA Methylation profiling to body fluid identification. Int J Legal Med 2011 Lee et al.
- Age identification from DNA methylation markers found in saliva. Epigenetic Predictor of Age. PLoS 2011 Brocklandt et al.
- Discriminating between identical twins. Perspective of DNA methylation in forensic genetics and new progress of its detection methods. Fa Yi Xue Za Zhi. 2009 Zhao & Li. (Chinese article)
- DNA methylation signatures that relate to time of death or cause of death….circadian dysregulation via methamphetamine exposure.
- Identifying artificial DNA introduced to a crime scene. Authentication of forensic DNA samples. Forensic Sci Int Genet 2010 Frumkin et al.
Considering all the ways that epigenetic profiles are specific to tissue, time, age, environmental factors…
How else do you imagine epigenetic analysis could aid forensic science?
This ~3 minute NPR interview of Dr. Tom Andrews, Chief Medical Examiner of New Hampshire by Dr. Greg Davis identifies the challenges faced by forensic science as matters of “life, liberty and death”. How true.