Welcome to The Forensic DNA Testing Blog
This forensic blog is our official forum where DDC staff and clients can post issues, concerns, answers, and questions regarding forensic DNA testing. Please note that all posts and comments are subject to approval by the moderator. Names may be changed to protect the writer's privacy.
September 15th, 2015
Advancements in DNA technology has made DNA analysis a revolutionary tool in forensic investigations. Since its breakthrough in the 1980s, DNA is used for identification of individuals in crime scene evidence, unknown human remains, and biological relationships. However, one limitation has been the ability to distinguish between identical twins. Since identical twins present exactly the same DNA profile as each other, their DNA is indistinguishable from each other. Legal conundrums result because it is not possible to tell which of the twins was guilty or innocent of the crime. Rather than risk convicting the wrong person, prosecutors drop charges and a potential criminal is set free.
A new solution to this problem has developed by the Forensic Genetics Research Group at the University of Huddersfield. Led by Dr. Graham Williams, their findings have been published in the Analytical Biochemistry journal. The method is based on the concept of “DNA methylation,” which is effectively the molecular mechanism that turns various genes on and off. The research shows that as twins age, the degree of difference between them grows as each is subjected to different environmental conditions. For example, one twin may be a smoker, one may work outdoors, one may work at a desk. The methylation status of their DNA will thus evolve, making close inspection of the DNA able to reveal the difference between the two individuals. Heretofore the only method proposed for distinguishing the DNA of twins was “mutation analysis”, but this was considered too costly for use in police investigations. Dr. Graham and his team have developed a more cost-efffective method based on this concept, and he explains it this way: ” ‘High resolution melt curve analysis’ or “HRMA” subjects the DNA to increasingly high temperatures until the hydrogen bonds break. This melting temperature may vary between the twins, and therefore the more hydrogen bonds that are present in the DNA, the higher the temperature required to melt them. Consequently, if one DNA sequence is more methylated than the other, then the melting temperature of the two samples will differ-a difference that can be measured, and which will establish the difference between the two identical twins.” Dr. Graham further explains that there are limitations to this solution. First, the technique requires a high quantity sample that may not be present in crime scene evidence. Also, the younger the twins and those raised in highly similar environments, the less likely the development of the methylation differences.
This research demonstrates that scientific breakthroughs continue to offer society more and more tools to solve crime. A detailed summary of the science behind the breakthrough can be found at the blog-site The Conversation (http://theconversation.com/new-dna-technique-means-pointing-the-finger-at-the-right-identical-twin-just-got-easier-39332).
September 1st, 2015
Yes! Mouth swabs are not only effective for collecting DNA, they are the standard for many applications, including paternity testing, forensic testing, and many kinds of DNA identification. The cells collected from the mouth, preferably cheek cells, slough off in great quantity, and can be stored very easily.
If you’re in your 40’s, you might remember when blood was the only way to collect and find DNA. If there was a crime scene, the detectives needed blood—and hopefully a lot of it—to get a DNA profile. In paternity testing, blood was collected from each party, even infants, in order to compare DNA profiles.
Today, that’s all changed. Technology has changed, from a system called “RFLP” to one called “PCR,” and with that change, a much smaller amount of DNA is needed for DNA testing. In the PCR process, DNA is duplicated millions of times, so a little DNA can turn into a lot of DNA! With this change, a few hundred cells from the inside of cheek can be plenty to establish a DNA profile.
Here are some examples of programs that have been established to collect DNA profiles that you may not know about:
Military personnel. Those that join the military will have their DNA collected right when they join. It can be used to identify bodies when necessary.
Prisoner Inmates. Those that enter prison will have their DNA collected, often to compare their DNA to federal databases to link them to other crimes. The federal DNA database is called CODIS, or Combined DNA Index System.
Paternity Testing. States programs collect thousands of DNA samples every month for paternity testing for child support. DNA can now be collected very easily with cheek swabs, rather than blood samples. The use of cheek swabs for DNA collection has made it possible to even collect DNA at home, creating a new kind of paternity test, where people can find out who the father is without going through the state.
Mouth swabs that collect cheek cells are a very effective way to collect DNA. When dry, these swabs can be stored for decades, and the DNA can still be tested. With simple instructions, anyone can rub a swab on the inside of a cheek and collect enough DNA for a paternity test or any other DNA test. The swabs are not only effective, but they are THE chosen method by most state and federal agencies that collect DNA.
April 21st, 2015
You’ve seen this plot on TV shows like Law & Order—a woman mysteriously dies, foul play is suspected, and the autopsy finds the woman is pregnant! A DNA test of the fetus is ordered to find out who the father is, and the results usually help solve the mystery and the crime.
There are many similarities between TV cases and a real life murder mystery playing out in Austin, Texas. The difference here is, no autopsy was needed to reveal the twist of an unknown pregnancy–Samantha Dean was seven months pregnant when she was found dead in her car, shot in the head multiple times.
Ms. Dean was a police department Victim Services Advocate, and had been seeing an Austin police officer socially. He has been placed on restricted duty in connection to the investigation.
DNA testing is the key to solving the mystery of who fathered the baby Ms. Dean was carrying. Both Dr. Michael Baird of DDC and Dr. Vincent Di Maio of Bexar County were interviewed by KXAN of Austin, and each agree—DNA results will be very accurate, and “virtually foolproof.”
Here is where the next steps differ greatly from TV shows, where the DNA results seemingly come back the next day. In a case like this, the DNA will most likely be sent through the county or state DNA lab, and the samples will get in line behind dozens, or hundreds, of other cases. Dr. Vincent Di Maio said the tests could take a few weeks to produce results, if there is a backlog in testing. What can happen to a case while a few weeks goes by? Where is the swift justice for the grieving family?
Dr. Michael Baird of DDC, when interviewed, said, “The paternity DNA tests that we do [take] a matter of days. Our typical turnaround time for paternity testing is two days at DDC. DNA analysis of evidence samples can be completed in a few weeks time.” Private labs often can produce test results much faster than county labs. Counties invest in DNA labs for the right reasons, but when the backlogs create long wait times, law enforcement should have a back-up plan to contract with private labs to avoid lengthy delays and relieve time pressure, to promote timely justice for those in need of answers.
March 3rd, 2015
CINCINNATI, March 3, 2015 /PRNewswire/ –DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), one of the largest commercial DNA testing companies in the world, celebrates its 20th anniversary today. Headed by President and CEO, Peter Vitulli, DDC is a consumer services company that focuses on DNA testing across multiple channels and segments. It employs over 200 associates and generates a significant portion of sales across international markets via its distributors in over 120 countries.
Peter Vitulli acknowledges the anniversary of the company and its accomplishments, “A personal thanks to the staff and scientists for reaching this important milestone. DDC is the world’s largest paternity testing company and also provides Forensic, Cell Line Authentication, Ancestry, Immigration, and Veterinary-related DNA tests. Last year, DDC launched DDC Direct Connect, a valuable online portal for the company’s Government Contract customers. In late 2014, DDC also became the leading seller of Home Paternity tests in drug stores in the United States.
DDC has one of the largest DNA laboratories in the world with multiple accreditations, including ten individuals who hold Ph.D.’s. For the last decade, the company has been conducting DNA tests in 168 countries, and performs over 600,000 DNA tests annually with more than 4,500 collection sites globally. DDC services the public and private sectors and is the preeminent provider of DNA tests to the entertainment industry, including “Dr. Phil” and “Maury” TV shows, to name a few.
Dr. Michael Baird, Chief Science Officer, is considered the country’s foremost expert in DNA and paternity testing, and was the first person to testify in a criminal DNA case in the US. Since 1987, he has been involved in more than 300 court cases involving DNA and paternity. Dr. Baird is currently the Chair of the Relationship Testing Committee of the AABB responsible for developing standards for paternity testing. He has authored or coauthored over 50 peer reviewed scientific articles involving DNA identification analysis. He was an on-air consultant for NBC during the OJ Simpson trial and the DNA expert in the highly publicized paternity case of Dannielynn, the daughter of Anna Nicole Smith. Dr. Baird received his PhD in Genetics from the University of Chicago in 1978.
On the news of the 20th anniversary, Dr. Baird states, “I am honored to be a member of DDC since 2004. We are proud to help those who are in need of real answers that can change their lives and the lives of their loved ones.” Amongst many “firsts” in the industry, in 2011 DDC launched ‘DDC’s Non-Invasive Prenatal Paternity Test’, empowering customers to learn the paternity of an unborn child as early as 9 weeks in the pregnancy, using a safe, quick, and simple blood collection.
About DDC (DNA Diagnostics Center):
DDC is one of the largest DNA testing companies in the world. Founded 20 years ago, DDC offers comprehensive DNA testing services for paternity and other family relationships, forensics, cell line authentication, and ancestry. DDC receives more than 800,000 consumer calls each year, and will perform over 600,000 DNA tests in 2015. DDC’s unique Dual Process™ ensures all collected DNA samples are independently tested twice producing legal results of unmatched quality and reliability. DDC is recognized through a number of accreditations nationally and internationally including those performed by the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) and the College of American Pathologists (CAP). DDC is also accredited by ACLASS to meet the standards of ISO 17025 and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board International and follows the DNA Advisory Board (DAB) guidelines, which attests to DDC’s superior forensic testing service. For more information: http://www.dnacenter.com or 1-800-625-0874.
To learn more about DDC and to interview Peter Vitulli and/or Dr. Michael Baird, please contact Jan Strode, CEO Advisors 619-890-4040 or JanStrode@aol.com
December 11th, 2014
Dewey Jones, the Akron OH man who was exonerated of murder and kidnapping charges after serving 19 years in prison for the death of Neal Rankin, has filed a lawsuit against the city of Akron and at least 9 Akron City police officers. In January 2014, Mr. Jones was exonerated after DNA testing conducted by DNA Diagnostics Center helped the OH Innocence Project and Mr. Jones’ lawyers prove to the court that he was innocent of all charges.
Seeking unspecified damages, Jones lawsuit claims Akron Police Dept. investigators of misconduct, including manipulating witnesses and forcing them to identify Jones in photo lineups more than a year after the murder. The lawsuit also claims Akron police detectives used a jailhouse informant who provided false testimony in exchange for protection in that inmate’s criminal cases. Other claims of misconduct include Akron police failing to disclose witnesses identifying other suspects and failing to perform forensic analysis on a bloody handprint found on the victim’s door.
Jones maintained his innocence throughout the case and his 19 years in prison. Even though his trial attorneys argued that there was no physical evidence linking Jones to the murder, the jury sentenced him to life in prison. Ultimately, the efforts of the OH Innocence Project and DNA testing provided by the Forensics team at DNA Diagnostics Center were critical in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office request to vacate Dewey Jones’ conviction.
November 21st, 2014
DDC Forensics is Celebrated as Key Contributor to OIP’s Success
DNA Diagnostics Forensics, a Division of DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC), one of the world’s largest DNA testing companies, was honored at Ohio Innocence Project’s (OIP) tenth Anniversary Gala, celebrating freedom for those exonerated, and the organizations that have contributed to the effort. Approximately 400 supporters attended the event held Saturday, October 25, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency Cincinnati—raising over $150,000 to OIP’s cause. Cincinnati’s Mayor John Cranley, and co-founder of OIP, was the master of ceremonies and presided over the event; and exonerated citizen, Robert McClendon, awarded DDC’s President and CEO, Peter Vitulli with the honor on behalf of the company. To date, DDC’s testing for OIP includes more than 30 cases, resulting in the exonerations of Ohio residents, Robert Towler, Robert McClendon, Douglas Prade and Dewey Jones. Working with other Innocence Projects on post-conviction cases throughout the United States, DDC Forensics has provided DNA testing that resulted in the exonerations of Florida citizens James Bains, Derrick Williams and Cheydrick Britt, and Kentucky Innocence Project client, Kerry Porter.
During the event, Mayor Cranley lauded DDC as “an exceptional organization that has risen to the occasion in OIP’s fight for justice. In 2005, DDC offered pro bono DNA testing on all OIP casework, and today, that charitable donation of time, staffing, and resources is still in effect. No other lab in the country has extended this amount of good will to our organization, and for that we will be forever grateful to DDC.” In addition, each year DDC welcomes the University of Cincinnati College of Law professors, staff attorneys, and students to its Fairfield, Ohio laboratory and provides training in forensic DNA and legal applications in post-conviction cases.
After the ceremony, DDC’s Peter Vitulli looked back at the event and OIP’s history, stating “OIP’s tireless work to pass legislation to reduce wrongful convictions has made Ohio a national model for other states and countries to enact reforms to fight the problem of wrongful convictions. On behalf of my staff at DDC, it was an honor to receive this award from the OIP, and it was especially poignant that exonerated citizen, Robert McClendon, recited his poem, “Hello Truth” before presenting me with the award. Without a doubt every member of my team is proud to be working with the OIP, knowing that our efforts are helping to change people’s lives to secure justice. We look forward to continuing our work with the OIP for many years to come.”
OIP has been a role model to other innocence projects across the country, as the agency wrote and promoted Ohio Senate Bill 77, aimed at reducing wrongful convictions—with reforms in eyewitness identification procedures, police interrogation practices, expanded access to DNA testing and mandate crime scene DNA evidence preservation. SB 77 became law in July, 2010 and was called by the legislature ‘the most important piece of criminal justice legislation in Ohio in a century, thus becoming the model for national innocence reform.’
November 21st, 2014
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office Dismisses Case Based on DNA Testing Conducted By DNA Diagnostics Center
According to Summit County Common Pleas Court, Case #1994-06-1409C on Thursday, January 30, 2014, Judge Mary Margaret Rowland dismissed aggravated murder and robbery charges against Dewey Jones, an Akron, OH man convicted in 1995 of the high-profile murder of Neil Rankin. A family friend and neighbor of Jones, 71-year old retired Mr. Rankin was robbed and shot inside his home on Feb. 13, 1993.
Evidence from the crime scene, an unknown sample of male blood on a piece of nylon rope used to tie Rankin’s wrists, a knife used to cut the rope and a section of Rankin’s shirt, were identified by the Forensics team at DNA Diagnostics Center (DDC) in Fairfield, Ohio, led by Dr. Julie Heinig, the Forensic Director and DNA Technical Leader. DDC utilized leading edge technology to identify DNA from these difficult, 20 year old samples. None of the DNA matched Dewey Jones, prompting Judge Rowlands to grant Jones a new trial and said the DNA of another suspect, “calls into question the state’s entire theory of the case.” Jones was then transferred to the Summit County Jail, released in December 2013 under house arrest pending a trial that will no longer happen. Finally last week, Mr. Jones was freed from his electronic monitoring device into the arms of his family. Carrie Wood, Mr. Jones’ attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project noted the importance of accessing the latest advancements in DNA technology saying, “Mr. Jones’ case demonstrates the importance of using leading edge platforms, like miniSTR (AmpFlSTR® MiniFiler™ PCR Amplification Kit ). DDC’s experience and knowledge with this methodology proved critical in obtaining exculpatory DNA results. Dr. Heinig and her team are a valuable resource to us and we are endlessly appreciative of her DNA expertise.” Mr. Jones is also represented by the law firm of Loevy & Loevy and the Exoneration Project. Staff attorney David Owens remarks, “DNA supports Dewey Jones’ claims of innocence and we hope that the case will be dismissed with prejudice, eliminating any fear that the state could review the case further and proceed with a second trial. The DNA evidence strongly supports his full exoneration.” The Ohio Attorney General is arguing that the case should be dismissed without prejudice. Attorneys for both sides will submit briefs by February 10, 2014 for the judge’s final decision.
Dewey Jones’ case was one of 30 cases selected in 2008 from more than 300 by the OH Innocence Project and The Columbus Dispatch initiative to identify cases most worthy of post-conviction DNA testing. DDC partnered with OIP to provide the laboratory testing, and to date, there are 5 Ohio men freed as a result. Nationwide, DDC Forensics has assisted in the exoneration of 8 men who have served between 9 and 35 years for crimes they did not commit. Guilt was confirmed in 13 of the post-conviction cases that DDC tested, and other cases continue to proceed through the justice system to long-awaited resolution.
Says Dr. Julie Heinig, “DNA testing proves over and over that it is a powerful tool to help uncover the truth. This exoneration is the 8th such case that DDC has proven an inmate’s innocence, and its value is especially evident in Innocence Project cases like this where it helps a wrongfully convicted man be set free.” Peter Vitulli, President and CEO of DDC said, “I am honored that Dr. Heinig and her forensics team were able to help change the outcome for Mr. Jones, reminding us all in the power in DNA testing. Since 2008, DDC has successfully assisted with eight exonerations, and provides DNA expertise across the country. Our world-class facility and testing methods allow the science to provide the impetus for freeing innocent people, and we celebrate with Mr. Jones and his family.”