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Infographic: Advancing Forensic Science

Forensic scientists have been using rudimentary molecular techniques for decades. But advanced forensic anthropology technologies and methods are just now coming to the fore in some investigations.

Dec 31, 2016
Bob Grant

Currently approved and accepted forensic anthropology methods include creating a so-called biological profile of a crime victim or set of remains. This involves taking several measurements, especially of skeletal and cranial features, that can indicate age, gender, stature, and even ancestry.

INFOGRAPHIC BY JUDE BUFFUM

DELVING INTO DNA

Genetic analyses have been used in crime solving since the 1980s. Investigators sequence the DNA of victims and/or suspects to establish presence or absence at a scene or familial relationships, among other applications. Traditionally, this sequencing involves older technologies, such as Sanger sequencing, and targets only small portions of the genome. More recently, some forensic scientists are advocating for the use of next-generation sequencing, which can capture whole genomes and fragments of degraded DNA too small for Sanger sequencing to capture, to provide more information about the individual of interest, including clues about ancestry and phenotypic traits.

ISOTOPE ANALYSES

INFOGRAPHIC BY JUDE BUFFUMOver the last decade, forensic scientists have begun to adapt the mass spectrometry used by ecologists, archaeologists, and paleoclimatologists to uncover hidden dynamics or origins using isotopic ratios. Comparing the relative levels of different isotopes of certain elements—for example, strontium, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen—in hair, teeth, or bones with abundances of these isotopes in soils or drinking water can suggest a geographic origin, diet, time of death, or travel history for an individual. For example, levels of 18O—a heavier stable isotope of oxygen than normal 16O—in hair can indicate how closely someone lived to a coastline, because drinking water in those regions is typically more 18O rich than inland areas.

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