Law and Public Safety

Law and Public Safety

Biology/DNA Unit

Accreditation

The St. Louis County Police Department Crime Laboratory has been ASCLD/LAB accredited since 2005. The DNA unit had previous NFSTC accreditation from 2004-2005. The laboratory is currently pursuing international accreditation under ISO 17025 and hopes to obtain accreditation by 2015.

In addition to laboratory-wide accreditation standards, the Biology/DNA Unit must comply with the Quality Assurance Standards for Forensic DNA Testing Laboratories (QAS) set forth by the director of the FBI. The Biology/DNA Unit is audited annually to ensure compliance.

As part of the QAS requirements, each biology and DNA analyst must successfully complete two external proficiency tests each year. Analysts must possess specific educational requirements including a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or forensic-science related area and college level coursework in genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and statistics/population genetics. In addition, analysts must attend DNA training annually as part of the continuing education requirement outlined in the QAS.

The QAS also requires that DNA testing laboratories follow rigorous quality control policies to ensure that all analysts are qualified for the testing they perform, that testing procedures are documented, and that results are reliable.

Forensic Biology

Fluids

Prior to DNA analysis, evidence must be examined to disclose if biological fluids are present which may contain DNA. Biologists screen evidence for seminal fluid, blood, and saliva depending on the case circumstances. Sweat, mucus and vaginal fluids also contain DNA but there are currently no presumptive tests which can differentiate them from other bodily fluids.

An alternate light source (ALS) is used to locate stains that fluoresce at specific wavelengths of light. The alternate light source is not specific for any particular body fluid. Many stains including seminal fluid, saliva, sweat and urine can be detected using an ALS. Food, beverages, cleaning agents, and a wide variety of other substances can cause fluorescence when viewed with the alternate light source. Screening methods are needed to test areas of fluorescence on evidence. Screening methods involve swabbing or cutting a small portion of the suspected stain and applying a chemical color test which may presumptively indicate the presence of a particular body fluid (blood, seminal fluid, or saliva).
A hat viewed using the alternate light source without the appropriate filter.
Stained areas become apparent when viewed using the orange filter.

Semen and Seminal Fluid

If a potential semen stain is identified using the alternate light source, a portion of the suspected stain is swabbed and tested for acid phosphatase using the STMP (Sodium Thymolphthalein Monophosphate) reagents. STMP is a presumptive test for seminal fluid and does not confirm the presence of semen.
Microscopic view of sperm cells.
To confirm the presence of semen, a microscope slide (also known as a “smear”) is made from the suspected stain. Sperm cells are stained using the Kernechtrot-Picroindigocarmine stain (commonly referred to as the “Christmas Tree” stain) and visualized using a microscope. The stain consists of two components; Nuclear Fast Red and Picroindigocarmine (green). Nuclear Fast Red stains the nucleus of cells. The acrosome (cap) of primate/human sperm does not stain as well and appears as a lighter red color. The tails are stained green by the Picroindigocarmine. Identification of sperm cells using the Christmas Tree stain is considered a confirmatory test for the presence of semen.

Blood

Presumptive blood testing is performed using the Phenolphthalein (Kastle Meyer) test. A pink color change indicates the sample is presumptively positive for blood.

Once the biological screening is complete, the biologist collects the relevant material with a swab or a cutting. The sample is retained in a freezer until DNA analysis. The analyst writes a report summarizing their findings. The report is technically and administratively reviewed by a second qualified analyst prior to release.
Apparent blood on a tennis shoe.

DNA

Deoxyribonucleic Acid or DNA is a very useful tool in the fight against crime. DNA is a molecule that contains the genetic information for an organism. Every individual on earth has a unique DNA profile with the exception of identical twins. Nuclear DNA is located in the nucleus of almost all cells in the human body. DNA consists of 4 chemical bases: adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). A DNA molecule consists of A-T and G-C pairings of these bases. The base pairs, combined with a sugar-phosphate backbone form a double helix structure. The sequence of the base pairs determines what genetic information is encoded.

Forensic DNA analysis uses regions of the DNA molecule called Short Tandem Repeats (STRs). Short Tandem Repeats are areas of the DNA where a specific set of base pairs (usually 4-5 base pairs) repeat again and again.

Through STR analysis, scientists are able to determine the number of repeats at several locations on the DNA molecule. These STRs are intentionally located in regions of the DNA molecule that have no known function. As a result, personal genetic information such as disease risk cannot be deciphered during a forensic autosomal STR analysis.

A technology called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) is part of the STR testing process and enables specific areas on the DNA to be copied millions of times. Millions of copies are needed for instrumentation to be able to detect the areas of interest (STRs) on the DNA molecule. PCR technology has enabled analysts to obtain DNA profiles from aged evidence and items that only contain a small quantity of DNA.

Bloodstains or buccal swabs (swab from inside the mouth) are obtained from suspects, victims, and sometimes witnesses to serve as a reference standard for those individuals. DNA profiles from individuals involved in the case are compared to crime scene evidence. Similar to fingerprints, a DNA profile from a crime scene only becomes useful when we have individuals to compare it to.

DNA analysis consists of four basic steps:

1) Extraction/Purification

The DNA must be freed from the cell’s nucleus and purified. SLCPD has EZ1 robots which perform the purification step using magnetic bead technology.
EZ1 BioRobot

2) Quantitation

Some samples have lots of DNA while others have very little to no DNA. Quantitation determines approximately how much DNA was recovered from each sample. This is important to know before the next step can be performed.
7500 Real-Time PCR

3) Amplification (Polymerase Chain Reaction)

Specific regions of the DNA are copied millions of times. While the pieces of DNA are being copied, fluorescent tags are added to the copied DNA. It is important to note that this is not cloning or gene analysis. Forensic DNA analysis looks at “junk” DNA that does not contain any personal information (other than the gender of the individual). It is only useful for comparison to crime scene samples.
Thermalcycler performs the PCR step

4) Capillary Electrophoresis (CE)

The amplified DNA is run on an instrument called a genetic analyzer that can “see” the fluorescent tags that were added during copying (amplification). The DNA pieces are separated by size as they move through the capillary. The instrument has a laser that excites the fluorescent tags which can then be detected by a CCD camera in the instrument. A DNA profile is generated and can be used to determine the source if appropriate reference standards are available for comparison.
Interior view of the Applied Biosystems 3500 Genetic Analyzer

The DNA Profile

DNA profile example: Each green/yellow box indicates the name of the location (locus/loci) on the DNA. The number labeled under each peak represents the number of repeating units at that locus. Half of our DNA comes from our mother and half from our father. In a single source sample (DNA is from one individual), each location has 1-2 peaks. If two peaks are present, the individual received a different number of repeats from each parent (heterozygous). At the loci with only one peak, both parents passed on the same number of repeats (homozygous).
A DNA profile is basically a set of numbers. These numbers indicate the number of repeat units at each location (locus). No two individuals will have the same DNA profile except identical twins. Many DNA profiles from crime scene evidence contain mixtures. A DNA mixture is detected when DNA from more than one individual is present in the sample.
Mixture DNA profile example: More than two peaks are present at multiple loci indicating that DNA from more than one individual is present.
Once all samples for the case have been processed, the analyst performs comparisons and writes a report summarizing their findings. All reports are technically and administratively reviewed by a second qualified analyst prior to release.

CODIS

All eligible DNA profiles are entered into the COmbined DNA Index System (CODIS). Nationally, the CODIS DNA database contains millions of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, arrestees, crime scene samples, samples from families of missing persons and unidentified human remains. The St. Louis County Police Crime Laboratory is one of 8 CODIS laboratories in Missouri. The CODIS DNA database is administered by the FBI and only accredited crime laboratories meeting QAS requirements are allowed access. Personal information related to convicted offenders and crime scene evidence is not allowed in the CODIS database. Data is entered using case numbers and item numbers rather than names or other personal identifiers. The CODIS database enables state and local crime laboratories to compare DNA profiles electronically. CODIS is a very useful tool in solving cases that do not contain suspects and in connecting multiple crimes to a single individual. CODIS has also been instrumental in exonerations of wrongfully convicted individuals.

For more information, please contact:

St. Louis County Police Crime LaboratoryASCLD Logo
Lieutenant Dana Fulton, Commander
Telephone: (314) 615-5365
E-mail: [dfulton@stlouisco.com]

Ms. Lisa Campbell, Deputy Director
Telephone: (314) 615-5365
E-mail: [lcampbell@stlouisco.com]

7900 Forsyth Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63105
Fax: 314-615-8956

Hours of Operation:

Monday – Friday, 8:00AM to 4:30PM*
The Laboratory is closed on all St. Louis County Government holidays
*Please call for an appointment if submitting evidence


St. Louis County Police DepartmentCALEA Logo
7900 Forsyth Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63105

Emergency Calls: Call 911
Non-Emergency Reporting / General Information: (314) 889-2341
TDD: (314) 889-2345