Science Questions

Sun, 4th Dec 2005

Part of the show Forensics, DNA Fingerprinting and Human Origins

Question

Mr P. Whignal in Essex asked:

We have a picture of my wife's father in the police force in 1947. He's wearing a hat and holding a truncheon, which we now have in our possession and have been kept safely in a box. Would it be possible to extract DNA from the truncheon to see if the items really belonged to him?

Answer

I think in this case detective work rather than forensic work is going to be more useful in finding out whether the items belonged to him. After all this time, I think it would be difficult to prove this. However, if these had come from a modern crime scene, there is actually something we can do with them. Hats are especially good because we can usually extract DNA from headbands. However, in this person's case, they'd be better off popping it along to the Essex Police museum and seeing if they can match up the item from the period with the photograph. Cross contamination is also a major problem for us when using DNA. DNA is great and helps us out a lot, but it also presents its own problems.

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