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About DNA Forensics


DNA technologies have radically reshaped the role of forensics in police work. Even small amounts of blood, saliva, or other biological materials left at a crime scene can now lead to the identification or elimination of a suspect. Genetic evidence has been used both to convict perpetrators and to exonerate people who were wrongfully convicted on less reliable evidence, including scores of people on death row.

DNA typing is typically quite accurate when used to tell whether an unknown sample matches another sample that has already been identified. This is not to say that this process is without problems; simple human error, sample contamination, and misinterpretations have been known to skew results.

The development of forensic DNA databases--in which hundreds of thousands of profiles are stored with the intention of catching recidivists--has given rise to new sets of problems such as miscalculations of the statistical probability that an unknown sample coincidentally matches a stored profile. In some cases, what are touted as rare "one-in-a-million" odds of being a coincidental match are actually significantly more likely once other relevant factors (such as database size) are taken into consideration. Such information has, on occasion, not been revealed to juries.

Nevertheless, the compilation of DNA databases has been increasing dramatically. In many jurisdictions, both in the US and abroad (especially in the UK), they now include people who may have been arrested for but never convicted of a crime. This raises privacy issues in addition to issues of racial discrimination since minorities have disproportionately higher contact with police and are therefore overrepresented in these databases.


Illumina Would Like You to Sequence More DNA, Pleaseby Sarah ZhangWIREDAugust 15th, 2016The leader of the DNA sequencing market has a start-up accelerator program to find new applications for its technology.
Public policy must address technology’s impact[citing CGS' Marcy Darnovsky]by John M. HeinThe Sacramento BeeAugust 13th, 2016“We need to develop habits of mind, or habits of social interaction, that will allow for some very robust public participation on the use of these powerful technologies,” says Marcy Darnovsky.
The Human Genome Is Having Its Facebook Momentby Whet MoserChicago MagazineAugust 9th, 2016In less than a decade, as many people could have their genomes sequenced as use the social networking site (~1.7 billion monthly users).
Silicon Valley was going to disrupt capitalism. Now it’s just enhancing itby Evgeny MorozovThe GuardianAugust 6th, 2016Tech giants thought they would beat old businesses but the guardians of old capitalism are using data troves to become more, not less, resilient.
The False Promise of DNA Testingby Matthew SchaerThe AtlanticJune 1st, 2016The forensic technique is becoming ever more common—and ever less reliable.
A DNA Sequencer in Every Pocketby Ed YongThe AtlanticApril 28th, 2016Oxford Nanopore Technologies, which severed financial ties with DNA sequencing monolith Illumina in 2013, is "desperately thinking of ways of bringing them down.” These include a USB-powered sequencer called the MinION.
Kuwait Becomes First Country to Collect DNA Samples From All Citizens and Visitors: Reportby Seung LeeNewsweekApril 19th, 2016Kuwait will use mobile centers to collect samples from citizens, and take cheek swabs at airports on all visitors. Anyone faking DNA samples faces up to seven years in prison.
CIA’s Venture Capital Arm Is Funding Skin Care Products That Collect DNAby Lee FangThe InterceptApril 8th, 2016Skincential Sciences developed a patented technology that removes a thin outer layer of the skin for a youthful "glow"... and DNA collection.
Apple Wants The iPhone To Record Every Aspect Of Your Healthby Stephanie M. LeeBuzzFeedMarch 22nd, 2016By letting iPhone users share their DNA with researchers and update their doctors, Apple is diving deeper into its vision of a complete ecosystem of your health and medical information
Of evil mice and men: Can we blame crime on our genes?by Alan MartinAlphrMarch 14th, 2016Various studies are finding genetic and mental indicators for criminal behaviour - in lab mice.
People Are Going To Prison Thanks To DNA Software — But How It Works Is Secretby Stephanie M. LeeBuzzFeedMarch 12th, 2016Private companies are developing cutting-edge DNA analysis software used to convict people, but source codes are protected from independent validation because they are "trade secrets."
Evidence on trialby Martin EnserinkScience/AAASMarch 11th, 2016Forensic science is reforming in the wake of a landmark report.
My Genes, Myself?by Jessica Cussins, Biopolitical Times guest contributorMarch 8th, 2016We have become accustomed to ascribing agency to individual genes. But every now and then a story comes along that reminds us just how foolish we are.
Forensics gone wrong: When DNA snares the innocentby Douglas StarrScience/AAASMarch 7th, 2016Biologist Greg Hampikian heads the Idaho Innocence Project, and uncovers instances where DNA evidence was false or misconstrued.
DNA Under the Scope, and a Forensic Tool Under a Cloudby Carl ZimmerThe New York TimesFebruary 26th, 2016Cutting-edge technology has enabled analysis of ever-tinier genetic samples. But as the science pushes boundaries, some experts are raising reliability questions.
The Troubling Rise of Rapid DNA Testingby Ava KofmanNew RepublicFebruary 24th, 2016Your DNA can now be read in less time than it would take to wait at a typical DMV. New portable rapid DNA devices may represent a giant leap backward for civil liberties.
The Anthropometric Detective and His Racial Cluesby Ava KofmanThe Public Domain ReviewFebruary 24th, 2016The spectre of race, in particular Francis Galton’s disturbing theory of eugenics, haunts the early history of fingerprint technology.
Not Every Drop of a Person’s Blood Is the Same, a Study Saysby Donald G. McNeil Jr.The New York TimesFebruary 22nd, 2016As diagnostic tests rely on ever-tinier amounts of blood, some scientists are striking a note of caution. As it turns out, not every drop of blood is identical.
Cops Caught Forcing Scientists to Falsify DNA Tests To Get More Prosecutions — Now They’re Furiousby John VibesThe Free Thought ProjectFebruary 21st, 2016Three scientists who have worked for the New York State police crime lab for over 20 years are suing because of a "pro-prosecution" culture of corruption, coercion to commit fraud, and retaliation.
DNA sweeps pose wrenching ethical questionsby Carol GoarThe Star [Toronto]February 17th, 2016In the remote indigenous community of Garden Hill, Manitoba, police are collecting DNA samples from every male 15-66 years of age to find the killer of 11-year-old Teresa Robinson.
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