Friday, February 25, 2011

DNA Manipulation

by Andrea Campbell

When technology gets better, there will always be someone who wants to defeat the system. It’s comforting to know that progress is continually being made in order to stay ahead of the criminals.

We’ve talked a lot about biometrics and DNA. These are thought of as irrefutable biological characteristics that help to define and identify just who we are. That’s why when I saw the headline, “DNA Paternity Test Almost Fooled,” I had to know more.

Who’s Your Daddy?

Paternity tests use DNA to allow people to discover their origins, such as who are my mother and father? DNA has longed been used for this process and there are reasons that someone would not want to be found—mainly child support payments. In 2007, someone found a way to confuse the identification system temporarily and it has now prompted a new methodology because of this person’s brash moves.

Apparently the fraud attempt was predicated by a DNA paternity test.

The paternity test is done just as one would do for a crime suspect—samples of saliva cells are collected from the mouth. In this particular case, Dr. José Antonio Lorente Acosta, Director of the Laboratory of Genetic Identification at the University of Granada, carries out forensic tests just like these as commissioned by the court in cases of paternity, and for the identification of possible criminals, or else to contribute to DNA databases such as in the case of trying to locate missing relatives.

In this 2007 case, epithelial cells were collected from the interior of the mouth by a person undergoing a paternity test, which gave an incongruous result. The research team questioned their procedure and found they had not changed anything. The suspect washed his mouth and, “... after repeating the analysis, there was only one possible conclusion: In the mouth of that man there was DNA from two different persons,” says Dr. Acosta. They, of course, arranged to meet the subject again and found out that shortly before he took the test, he mixed his saliva with someone else’s that he had concealed on his person in a small container, hoping to mislead detectives. As it turns out, the test was repeated and he was found to be the biological father in that particular case of judicial investigation. This case prompted a modification of all future tests, as now it would be compulsory for the donor to wash his mouth out, but this time in the presence of a witness.

The Grim Sleeper Case

A Los Angeles' serial killer who was thought to have killed at least 10 people, was caught by detectives who used a familial DNA search and that, and new databases, has made somewhat of a breakthrough. Only Colorado and California currently have laws specifically allowing the use of familial DNA match. The practice has drawn criticism from privacy advocates who fear that innocent family members will be targeted if they have the misfortune of being related to a criminal.

The research policy, however, is restricted to major violent crimes, and only after all other investigative methods have failed. Apparently the majority of the Grim Sleeper’s killings were committed in the 1980s. Unfortunately the crimes restarted after a 13-year absence, with the latest one occurring in 2007. This prompted Los Angeles' police to look for a “similar” DNA profile. Hoping they might find a relative for leads, after running several tests, some DNA was identified as the suspect’s son. The after-effects of this case and use of familial DNA will surely set precedents for its future use, as well as new policies as other states adopt the process. First published in Forensic Magazine.

Take That Robbers: DNA Mist

This new technology is fairly genius and was discovered in the Netherlands. We’ve all seen in films where the bank puts explosive dye packs in the money bag in order to mark the criminal after it explodes. They open the bag to get the money and are showered with indelible ink. Now there is a DNA spray mist! The applicator is positioned on the door of a bank or other business that has funds. Every person who enters is misted with a DNA spray that has no odor and is completely unnoticeable. The synthetic DNA compound settles onto hair, clothing and skin without knowledge. Of course, somewhere on this person is a trail that has a fluorescent marker that can be detected using ultraviolet light. Not only that, but the DNA can be made unique to a particular location. Good thinking that.

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