On September 30th, 2022, NIJ announced $1.3 million in funding to support four new projects under its Research and Evaluation for the Testing and Interpretation of Physical Evidence in Publicly Funded Forensic Laboratories (Public Labs R&E) program. Through its forensic science research funding, NIJ continues to improve the examination and interpretation of physical evidence across the community of practice through identification of the most efficient, accurate, reliable, and cost-effective methods of analysis.
“These awards demonstrate how research can be accomplished within publicly funded crime laboratories. Awards like these can have a direct and immediate impact on laboratory efficiency and lead to better informed lab policy decisions” said NIJ Director Nancy La Vigne. “NIJ is committed to finding innovative ways to cultivate research in the forensic sciences. This program represents those efforts.”
Funding Highlights for 2022
Since 2015, NIJ has invested over $10 million in 38 projects under its Public Labs R&E program. The program was developed specifically to enable research at public forensic laboratories to identify efficient, accurate, reliable, and cost-effective methods of analysis. The goal is to use evaluation and improvement of existing laboratory protocols or comparison of an existing protocol to an emerging method to develop techniques or protocols that can be shared with the forensic community and benefit or aid decision making by lab directors and other forensic administrators.
The following are this year’s new projects:
The basis of individual identification in modern forensics is DNA typing of short tandem repeats (STRs). However, current STR analysis measures only amplicon lengths and fails to detect sequence specific information that could improve STR analysis. Newly developed instrumentation and informative markers have the potential to address limitations of current techniques. Massively parallel sequencing (MPS) can add additional sequencing information but also has nearly unlimited capacity for additional STRs and other genetic markers, thereby enhancing individual identification. The goal of this application is to evaluate two comparable MPS-STR kits, the ForenSeq™ MainstAY and the PowerSeq® 46GY System, by focusing on DNA mixture deconvolution. A research version of the fully continuous probabilistic genotyping software STRmix NGS will be used to evaluate the MPS output.
Development of robust forensic tools is required for full enforcement of the federal Endangered Species Act and imminent California Fur Ban. This project will develop and assess proteomic methods to identify and resolve two groups of fur-bearing mammals: 1) Felidae (cat) fur species, a major trafficking target, and 2) commercially prominent fur-bearing mammals. The goal of this project is to develop protocols to identify legally relevant species, thus providing a template for expansion of proteomic phylogenetic technology to other species that require identification for law enforcement purposes.
Materials like glass and tape are frequently submitted to forensic laboratories for classification or comparison to a possible source. Although there are established protocols for conventional analytical tools, new technologies like highly sensitive silicon drift detectors (SDDs) in micro x-ray fluorescence ( m XRF) instruments can require rigorous assessment of the potential sources of error and their impact on the interpretation of results. This project proposes to assess the accuracy and discriminating power of m XRF SDDs for the forensic analysis of a variety of glasses and electrical tapes. A collection of ground truth samples will be generated and distributed to laboratories for analysis and interpretation. The project is expected to result in guidelines for m XRF SDD use in forensic laboratories as well as a large dataset to be made available as a reference resource.
The presence or absence of an ignitable liquid in a fire debris sample can be a critical issue in an arson investigation. Although the chemical analysis of fire debris samples is based on objective analytical methods (GC-MS), the interpretation of the data is a subjective determination by a human examiner. The complex chemical background of the products of a fire, and the scarcity of published, validated methods for interpreting this data, make this determination a challenging task. This project proposes to establish quantitative measures for assessing the chromatographic features of fire debris and apply statistical methods to develop a graphical tool to help examiners determine whether sufficient information is present to make a reliable determination on whether an ignitable liquid is present. This is expected to lead to more reliable, validated, and explainable interpretations of evidence by fire debris examiners.
These projects support the goals of NIJ’s “Forensic Science Strategic Research Plan, 2022-2026.”