CRIMTYP: Meet the Unknown: The Future of CRIMinal Forensic Genomics PhenoTYPing

Photo credit: Thierry Ehrmann - Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

by S. Allegrezza and P. May

Within the last 15 years DNA sequencing and, in particular, Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) or Massive Parallel Sequencing (MPS) have revolutionised human genetics research. It is now possible to sequence a complete human genome inexpensively and more efficiently.

Importantly, the analysis of common Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) offers new opportunities for the so-called Forensic DNA Phenotyping (FDP), as well as forensic epigenetics. More concretely, FDP, exploiting predictive aspects of DNA, can draw inferences on concrete genetic aspects: a sample from the crime scene can offer information about appearance-related traits (hair, skin and eye colour or age), biogeographical ancestry, geographical origin, kinship, lineage (in general, relationships), behaviour or genetic diseases of the potential offender. Our interdisciplinary project intends to combine legal and genetics science to explore the future of FDP addressing the following research questions:

1) What will be the predictive power of FDP in the coming years? How should forensics genealogy be integrated with FDP? How could the results of FDP be misunderstood in light of the involvement of non-genetic items in the establishment of certain traits?

2) What are the next frontiers in terms of behavioural genetics? Can FDP predict more than external appearance? What is the impact of automated treatment of FDP or behavioural profiling? What is the potential impact on the current setting of criminal investigations?

3) To what extent and under which conditions should FDP-related information be stored on databases? And what rules should govern interoperability of such databases?

4) What is the role of private genetics companies in these fields? How can intellectual property rights be combined with judicial review and defence rights in criminal justice?

5) How could or should the protection of fundamental rights of the ‘unknown’ individual concerned be increased?

The innovative project will integrate academic fields of expertise together with law enforcement agencies as well as private actors in the field of genomics and NGS in an interdisciplinary project aimed at a long-term strategic field of research.

Prof. Dr. Silvia Allegrezza

Dr. Patrick May