Technology

Scientists prove DNA can be fabricated

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Scientists in Israel have announced a discovery that could seriously impact the United States' criminal justice system. In the journal Forensic Science International they detailed how they've been able to fabricate DNA.

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The authors of the study say manipulating a crime scene with false DNA evidence is so easy -- even a biology undergraduate student could do it. The scientists say they were able to take saliva and blood samples from one person and fabricate the samples so they contain the DNA of another person.

This could challenge an investigative tool the legal system uses daily, but ABC7's legal analyst Dean Johnson says he isn't too worried about the science ending up in the wrong hands.

"In my experience the people that we arrest for murder, rape, robbery, child molestation, generally don't have a very good foundation in molecular biology," says Johnson.

ABC7 showed the study to Linda Starr, the head of the Innocence Project at Santa Clara University. She says "It's pretty astonishing research."

The Innocence Project often relies on DNA evidence to help exonerate people. Starr also isn't too concerned about criminals figuring this out. What she is worried about is the people who work in the crime labs.

"Perhaps it's planted by somebody in law enforcement or created by a forensics lab," says Starr.

The author of the study is also selling a solution to this problem. He founded the company Nucleix -- which provides a test that can distinguish between real and fake DNA. He hopes to sell the test to forensic labs.

Johnson admits some attorneys could possibly use this as an argument against DNA.

"Those arguments, I think, are a real stretch. I don't think they'll go very far in court," says Johnson.

Starr thinks there are bigger issues to worry about than artificial DNA.

"Let's face it, if a guy wants to plant somebody's DNA evidence somewhere, it's not that hard to go get a cigarette butt or coffee cup," says Starr.

However, Starr says her students will certainly be encouraged to think about this when looking at a case from every possible angle.

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technology, amy hollyfield
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