The effectiveness of low copy number DNA in criminal investigation

  • Jacquelyn Newman

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


When offenders commit crime there is the potential that they may leave behind trace amounts of their DNA, even when there has been no apparent body fluid spill. During the examination of crime scenes, scene investigators try to identify areas that may be sampled to locate these traces. Specialist techniques are then required within the laboratory to enable such small amounts to be analysed to obtain a profile. These techniques are referred to as Low Template DNA analysis (LTDNA), of which Low Copy Number DNA (LCN DNA) is one instance. In 2008, following the Omagh Bombing trial, and comments made by Judge Weir, the UK Forensic Regulator commissioned a review of the science of LTDNA analysis. The subsequent report made specific mention of the fact that there was no available information on the success rate of the use of such DNA techniques and that there seemed to be confusion over what constituted a success. The report went on to state that there was no information on where such trace amounts of DNA were likely to be found, or what factors could influence the likelihood of obtaining a trace DNA profile (Caddy, 2008). This research considered the outcomes of LCN DNA analysis from 3,552 samples to try to establish where trace amounts of DNA could be found, whether some areas sampled were more successful in generating profiles than others, and the likelihood of the profiles obtained being of use to a criminal investigation. Analysis of results identified areas that were more successful in generating profiles of use to an investigation and highlighted significant differences in results across a variety of items from which samples were taken. DNA samples taken from items associated with communication such as mobile phones were much more likely to produce a profile useful to a criminal investigation than those taken from fixed surfaces within premises. The results obtained showed that obtaining a DNA profile did not necessarily correlate with the profile being of use to a criminal investigation. This was due to the fact that a large number of these profiles were anticipated eliminations from legitimate sources. Items that produced high numbers of profiles but were anticipated eliminations, and therefore of no value to an investigation, came from items associated with skin samples and clothing. The research went further to identify key factors that affected the profiling rates. Factors that had a positive influence on the ability to obtain a profile included: any area that had been in close proximity to saliva (direct contact was not required); samples that had been recovered from the inside of premises or vehicles and therefore protected from the elements; those that were dry; items that were of a porous nature; and those that had a rough texture. No differences were found between the actual surface materials (plastic, glass, wood, metal), as all showed a propensity to generate profiles. Other factors that were considered but proved to have no effect on the profiling rates included seasonal differences and whether the area targeted for sampling was clearly defined. Items that had had high contact with a victim, were recovered from outside or had been wet, all proved to be less useful to an nvestigation. A further finding of the research was that swabs that had been recovered and stored frozen appeared to deteriorate in their ability to profile. This was particularly notable if they were submitted later than 5 months after recovery. Items stored in dry conditions did not deteriorate in this way. Overall the research can be used to provide investigators with the knowledge of what areas of crime scenes are most likely to yield trace DNA material, the key factors that can affect the likelihood of obtaining a profile, and those areas that are more likely to produce profiles useful to criminal investigations.
Date of Award1 Jun 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Teesside University
SupervisorAndrew Campbell (Supervisor) & Shirley Marshall (Supervisor)

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