Journal: Forensic science international. Genetics
A total of 444 individuals representing three ethnic groups (Albanians, Turks and Romanies) in the Republic of Macedonia were sequenced in the mitochondrial control region. The mtDNA haplogroup composition differed between the three groups. Our results showed relatively high frequencies of haplogroup H12 in Albanians (8.8%) and less in Turks (3.3%), while haplogroups M5a1 and H7a1a were dominant in Romanies (13.7% and 10.3%, respectively) but rare in the former two. This highlights the importance of regional sampling for forensic mtDNA databasing purposes. These population data will be available on EMPOP under accession numbers EMP00644 (Albanians), EMP00645 (Romanies) and EMP00646 (Turks).
DNA testing is an established part of the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault. The primary purpose of DNA evidence is to identify a suspect and/or to demonstrate sexual contact. However, due to highly uneven proportions of female and male DNA in typical stains, routine autosomal analysis often fails to detect the DNA of the assailant. To evaluate the forensic efficiency of the combined application of autosomal and Y-chromosomal short tandem repeat (STR) markers, we present a large retrospective casework study of probative evidence collected in sexual-assault cases. We investigated up to 39 STR markers by testing combinations of the 16-locus NGMSElect kit with both the 23-locus PowerPlex Y23 and the 17-locus Yfiler kit. Using this dual approach we analyzed DNA extracts from 2077 biological stains collected in 287 cases over 30 months. To assess the outcome of the combined approach in comparison to stand-alone autosomal analysis we evaluated informative DNA profiles. Our investigation revealed that Y-STR analysis added up to 21% additional, highly informative (complete, single-source) profiles to the set of reportable autosomal STR profiles for typical stains collected in sexual-assault cases. Detection of multiple male contributors was approximately three times more likely with Y-chromosomal profiling than with autosomal STR profiling. In summary, 1/10 cases would have remained inconclusive (and could have been dismissed) if Y-STR analysis had been omitted from DNA profiling in sexual-assault cases.
The ability to estimate the age of the donor from recovered biological material at a crime scene can be of substantial value in forensic investigations. Aging can be complex and is associated with various molecular modifications in cells that accumulate over a person’s lifetime including epigenetic patterns. The aim of this study was to use age-specific DNA methylation patterns to generate an accurate model for the prediction of chronological age using data from whole blood. In total, 45 age-associated CpG sites were selected based on their reported age coefficients in a previous extensive study and investigated using publicly available methylation data obtained from 1156 whole blood samples (aged 2-90 years) analysed with Illumina’s genome-wide methylation platforms (27K/450K). Applying stepwise regression for variable selection, 23 of these CpG sites were identified that could significantly contribute to age prediction modelling and multiple regression analysis carried out with these markers provided an accurate prediction of age (R(2)=0.92, mean absolute error (MAE)=4.6 years). However, applying machine learning, and more specifically a generalised regression neural network model, the age prediction significantly improved (R(2)=0.96) with a MAE=3.3 years for the training set and 4.4 years for a blind test set of 231 cases. The machine learning approach used 16 CpG sites, located in 16 different genomic regions, with the top 3 predictors of age belonged to the genes NHLRC1, SCGN and CSNK1D. The proposed model was further tested using independent cohorts of 53 monozygotic twins (MAE=7.1 years) and a cohort of 1011 disease state individuals (MAE=7.2 years). Furthermore, we highlighted the age markers' potential applicability in samples other than blood by predicting age with similar accuracy in 265 saliva samples (R(2)=0.96) with a MAE=3.2 years (training set) and 4.0 years (blind test). In an attempt to create a sensitive and accurate age prediction test, a next generation sequencing (NGS)-based method able to quantify the methylation status of the selected 16 CpG sites was developed using the Illumina MiSeq(®) platform. The method was validated using DNA standards of known methylation levels and the age prediction accuracy has been initially assessed in a set of 46 whole blood samples. Although the resulted prediction accuracy using the NGS data was lower compared to the original model (MAE=7.5years), it is expected that future optimization of our strategy to account for technical variation as well as increasing the sample size will improve both the prediction accuracy and reproducibility.
Traditional forensic DNA interpretation methods are restricted as they are unable to deal completely with complex low level or mixed DNA profiles. This type of data has become more prevalent as DNA typing technologies become more sensitive. In addition they do not make full use of the information available in peak heights. Existing methods of interpretation are often described as binary which describes the fact that the probability of the evidence is assigned as 0 or 1 (hence binary) (see for example  at 7.3.3). These methods are being replaced by more advanced interpretation methods such as continuous models. In this paper we describe a series of models that can be used to calculate expected values for allele and stutter peak heights, and their ratio SR. This model could inform methods which implement a continuous method for the interpretation of DNA profiling data.
Salvia divinorum (diviner’s sage) is a plant in the mint family that produces an hallucinogenic compound, salvinorin A. The plant is used, often by chewing or smoking, as a “recreational” drug source and is regulated or banned in several states and countries. We describe a simple DNA technique, polymerase chain reaction of the ribulose bisphosphate carboxylase large subunit (rbcL) gene, that can distinguish S. divinorum leaf pieces from pieces of tobacco or cannabis. We have also found DNA sequences adjacent to the chloroplast leucine transfer RNA (trnL) gene that are specific to S. divinorum and distinguish it from other horticulturally popular Salvia species. We report some significant differences between the S. divinorum trnL sequences we determined and those now published in GenBank.
While the analysis of human DNA has been the focus of large-scale collaborative endeavors, non-human forensic DNA analysis has not benefited from the same funding streams and coordination of effort. Consequently, the development of standard marker panels, allelic ladders and allele-specific sequence data comparable to those established for human forensic genetics has lagged. To meet that need for domestic dogs, we investigated sequence data provided by the published 7.6X dog genome for novel short tandem repeat markers that met our criteria for sensitivity, stability, robustness, polymorphic information content, and ease of scoring. Fifteen unlinked tetranucleotide repeat markers were selected from a pool of 3113 candidate markers and assembled with a sex-linked marker into a multiplex capable of generating a full profile with as little as 60pg of nuclear DNA. An accompanying allelic ladder was assembled and sequenced to obtain detailed repeat motif data. Validation was carried out according to SWGDAM guidelines, and the DogFiler panel has been integrated into forensic casework and accepted in courts across the U.S. Applying various formulae for calculating random match probabilities for inbred populations, estimates for this panel of markers have proven to be comparable to those obtained in human forensic genetics. The DogFiler panel and the associated allelic ladder represent the first published non-human profiling system to fully address all SWGDAM recommendations.
The circumstances surrounding deposition of DNA profiles are increasingly becoming an issue in court proceedings, especially whether or not the deposit was made by primary transfer. In order to improve the currently problematic evaluation of transfer scenarios in court proceedings, we examined the influence a variety of nine substrate types (six varieties of fabric, plywood, tarpaulin, and plastic sheets) has on DNA transfer involving blood. DNA transfer percentages were significantly higher (p=0.03) when the primary substrate was of non-porous material (such as tarpaulin, plastic or, to a lesser degree, wood) and the secondary substrate porous (such as fabrics). These findings on transfer percentages confirm the results of previous studies. Fabric composition was also shown to have a significant (p=0.03) effect on DNA transfer; when experiments were performed with friction from a variety of fabrics to a specific weave of cotton, transfer percentages ranged from 4% (flannelette) to 94% (acetate). The propensity for the same nine substrates to impact upon the efficiency of DNA extraction procedures was also examined. Significant (p=0.03) differences were found among the extraction efficiencies from different materials. When 15μL of blood was deposited on each of the substrates, the lowest quantity of DNA was extracted from plastic (20ng) and the highest quantities extracted from calico and flannelette (650ng). Significant (p<0.05) differences also exist among the DNA extraction yield from different initial blood volumes from all substrates. Also, significantly greater (p<0.05) loss of DNA was seen during concentration of extracts with higher compared to lower initial quantities of DNA. These findings suggest that the efficiency of extraction and concentration impacts upon the final amount of DNA available for analysis and that consideration of these effects should not be ignored. The application of correction factors to adjust for any variation among extraction and concentration efficiencies among substrates is proposed.
DNA mixture analysis is a current topic of discussion in the forensics literature. Of particular interest is how to approach mixtures where allelic drop-out and/or drop-in may have occurred. The Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) of The City of New York has developed and validated the Forensic Statistical Tool (FST), a software tool for likelihood ratio analysis of forensic DNA samples, allowing for allelic drop-out and drop-in. FST can be used for single source samples and for mixtures of DNA from two or three contributors, with or without known contributors. Drop-out and drop-in probabilities were estimated empirically through analysis of over 2000 amplifications of more than 700 mixtures and single source samples. Drop-out rates used by FST are a function of the Identifiler(®) locus, the quantity of template DNA amplified, the number of amplification cycles, the number of contributors to the sample, and the approximate mixture ratio (either unequal or approximately equal). Drop-out rates were estimated separately for heterozygous and homozygous genotypes. Drop-in rates used by FST are a function of number of amplification cycles only. FST was validated using 454 mock evidence samples generated from DNA mixtures and from items handled by one to four persons. For each sample, likelihood ratios (LRs) were computed for each true contributor and for each profile in a database of over 1200 non-contributors. A wide range of LRs for true contributors was obtained, as true contributors' alleles may be labeled at some or all of the tested loci. However, the LRs were consistent with OCME’s qualitative assessments of the results. The second set of data was used to evaluate FST LR results when the test sample in the prosecution hypothesis of the LR is not a contributor to the mixture. With this validation, we demonstrate that LRs generated using FST are consistent with, but more informative than, OCME’s qualitative sample assessments and that LRs for non-contributors are appropriately assigned.
Y chromosome single nucleotide polymorphisms (Y-SNPs) are indispensable markers for haplogroup determination. Since Y chromosome haplogroups show a high specific geographical distribution, they play a major role in population genetics but can also benefit forensic investigations. Although haplogroup prediction methods based on Y chromosome short tandem repeats (Y-STRs) exist and are frequently used, precaution is required in this regard. In this study we determine the Y chromosome haplogroups of a Nicaraguan population using several Y-SNP multiplex reactions. Y chromosome haplogroups have been predicted before, but our results show that a confirmation with Y-SNP typings is necessary. These results have revealed a 4.8% of error in haplogroup prediction based on Y-STR haplotypes using Athey’s Haplogroup Predictor. The Nicaraguan Mestizo population displays a majority of Eurasian lineages, mainly represented by haplogroup R-M207 (46.7%). Other Eurasian lineages have been observed, especially J-P209 (13.3%), followed by I-M170 (3.6%) and G-M201 (1.8%). Haplogroup E-P170 was also observed in 15.2% of the sample, particularly subhaplogroup E1b1b1-M35. Finally, the Native American haplogroup Q-M242 was found in 15.2% of the sample, with Q1a3a-M3 being the most frequent.
The presence of PCR inhibitors in extracted DNA may interfere with the subsequent quantification and short tandem repeat (STR) reactions used in forensic genetic DNA typing. DNA extraction from fabric for forensic genetic purposes may be challenging due to the occasional presence of PCR inhibitors that may be co-extracted with the DNA. Using 120 forensic trace evidence samples consisting of various types of fabric, we compared three automated DNA extraction methods based on magnetic beads (PrepFiler Express Forensic DNA Extraction Kit on an AutoMate Express, QIAsyphony DNA Investigator kit either with the sample pre-treatment recommended by Qiagen or an in-house optimized sample pre-treatment on a QIAsymphony SP) and one manual method (Chelex) with the aim of reducing the amount of PCR inhibitors in the DNA extracts and increasing the proportion of reportable STR-profiles. A total of 480 samples were processed. The highest DNA recovery was obtained with the PrepFiler Express kit on an AutoMate Express while the lowest DNA recovery was obtained using a QIAsymphony SP with the sample pre-treatment recommended by Qiagen. Extraction using a QIAsymphony SP with the sample pre-treatment recommended by Qiagen resulted in the lowest percentage of PCR inhibition (0%) while extraction using manual Chelex resulted in the highest percentage of PCR inhibition (51%). The largest number of reportable STR-profiles was obtained with DNA from samples extracted with the PrepFiler Express kit (75%) while the lowest number was obtained with DNA from samples extracted using a QIAsymphony SP with the sample pre-treatment recommended by Qiagen (41%).