Science Thursday: Testing for Hair Color and Family Ties


Scientists around the world are trying to profile individuals based on their DNA, steps are taken to create a federal forensic oversight entity, state crime labs continue to deal with challenges, and a retail giant quietly contributes forensic assistance to police investigations.  Here’s this year’s first round up of forensic news:

Scientists from the Netherlands report in the European journal “Human Genetics” that they

can determine hair color

with 90% accuracy for a person with red or black hair and 80% for blond and brown hair, from DNA taken from blood, sperm, saliva or skin cells.

Scientists around the world are working on forensic molecular biology,

the identification of outward physical traits based on a person’s biology


Senator Leahy (D-VT)

plans to introduce legislation

to create a federal forensic science oversight entity in the U.S.

The FBI opened

a new $7M cybercrime lab in California


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)

named Gregory P. Czarnopys as deputy director of ATF Laboratory Services

, to lead the National Laboratory Center (NLC) while directing the ATF’s forensic science laboratories in Atlanta, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. 

For years, the Minneapolis and Las Vegas police

have relied on help

from labs of the retail chain Target to help solve crimes.  Google has refused to cooperate in a UK investigation of

a crime captured by its Street View cameras


A former FBI firearms expert

partially confirmed

the conclusion of a North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation firearms examiner in a disputed case. The lab terminated agent Duane Deavers,

whose forensic analysis was the center of a recent exoneration


Misconduct at the San Francisco Police Crime Lab

has jeopardized

both proper and improper convictions.

A recent hearing of the Texas Forensic Science Commission on the investigation of the arson forensic methods used in the Cameron Todd Willingham case

pitted scientists against lawyers

, according to Houston Chronicle columnist Rick Casey.

A Texas man

will not receive a new trial

for an arson murder case in which unscientific arson investigation methods were used.

Virginia will soon join California and Colorado as states that use

familial DNA searching

for law enforcement purposes.

A public defender told West Virginia lawmakers that civilian oversight or public disclosure

is needed at the state’s crime lab


The D.C. City Council is considering a bill that would move the crime laboratory from police control into

a new department of forensics under the mayor



handwriting evidence

central to a French bombing case is being challenged in court.

In the wake of Donald Gates’ exoneration based on faulty forensic analysis, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project

will be reviewing

cases involving FBI analysts who were previously implicated by the Inspector General.

An Oklahoma forensic meteorologist

re-creates weather events

as evidence in cases.

Forensic artists can be employed to sculpt the likeness of a deceased person

using only a skull

, and forensic anthropologists

use dimensions of skull features

to infer ancestry, gender, and age of human remains.

A Kentucky medical examiner

volunteers her time

to do animal autopsies in animal abuse cases.

Army, Marine Corps, and now Air Force units

learn battlefield forensic science

to identify the makers of improvised explosive devices.

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