New University of Saskatchewan research looks to improve forensic investigations

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U of S research looks to improve forensic investigations
WATCH ABOVE: Using new 3D imaging technology at the University of Saskatchewan, a team of forensic anthropologists are hoping to change the way law enforcement analyzes DNA samples – Jul 11, 2017

New research taking place at the University of Saskatchewan is looking at ways to improve forensic investigations.

Not only can a person’s biological sex, age, height and health history be determined by examining bones, but DNA in bones can also confirm a person’s identity.

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“Bone is a living record,” Dr. Janna Andronowski, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Saskatchewan, said.

“It’s constantly changing over our life-span to respond with stresses.”

As a forensic anthropologist, Andronowski has a history of helping law enforcement when bones are discovered at a crime scene.

“We do go out to a scene if there are skeletal remains present, and we use archaeological methods to help with the recovery and then subsequently analyze the remains,” Andronowski said.

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Typically when skeletal remains are discovered, investigators extract DNA from larger bones like a femur or tibia; but Andronowski and her team are using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) to challenge that theory, looking into which bones have the most DNA.

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Research has determined smaller bones like fingers, ankles and the kneecap have higher DNA density compared to larger bones, but why?

Using micro-CT scanning and 3D imaging technology at the CLS, Andronowski and her team have found there are microscopic amounts of soft tissue remnants that are causing higher DNA yields.

“I’m hoping that our work will help to refine the way samples are taken in the field,” Andronowski said.

“If you have a complex scene with multiple individuals and a lot of debris and it’s a high stress situation; if we can remove a finger with a disposable scalpel blade, then that will be easier for practitioners and assist in identification efforts as quickly as possible to be analyzed.”

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This was the first application of synchrotron radiation micro-CT imaging to try to determine these findings.

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“We’re so privileged to have the Canadian Light Source on our soil in Saskatoon,” Andronowski said.

The team plans to follow up with further studies that will include more sampling, but Andronowski hopes these findings will help law enforcement with forensic analysis in the future.

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