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Criminal justice professors study disaster DNA preservation

Contributing Reporter

Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Updated: Thursday, January 30, 2014 00:01

Forensic scientists at Sam Houston State University are conducting research to improve DNA preservation after natural disasters that will assist in the identification of victims.

Rapid decomposition hinders forensic scientists from collecting DNA samples in the wake of the destruction that accompanies disasters, and SHSU assistant professor Sheree Hughes-Stamm, Ph.D., hopes to change the status quo.

“Through improvement in the DNA collection and processing of tissue samples for DNA analysis, we can identify more victims and help bring closure to those who would otherwise never know what happened to friends and family,” Hughes-Stamm said.

There are very few tasks as difficult as trying to identify victims of mass disasters, war and genocides, especially when remote locations, lack of resources, the massive amounts of victims and time limitations are factored in, according to the College of Criminal Justice Blog. These circumstances are unfavorable because the remains of victims rapidly decompose.

DNA is a fundamental piece of the puzzle in making identifications.

Prior to her latest round of research, Hughes-Stamm discovered a better technique to gain DNA samples from teeth. Before her method, extracting DNA evidence from teeth required cutting or drilling. Her method instead goes through the root canal, which leaves the tooth intact and results in better extraction. 

Hughes-Stamm’s newest study will be conducted at SHSU’s Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility also known as STAFS. The facility is one of only six of its kind in the U.S.

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