Failure is often seen as a negative part of scientific discovery. Failure is inherently bad. But failure is not completely bad. When it is not a completely indomitable failure, it provides an opportunity for growth, and quite often is a stepping stone towards success, or brings you one step closer from achieving your goal.
This anthology is a collection of 15 carefully curated pieces which reflect the importance and the nuances around failure and its role in the scientific world. As you will find, failure is not only an irremovable component of science and progress, but a driving force into scientific discovery and advancement. Continue reading “Scientific Anthology: Failure as a Stepping Stone”→
Biotechnology as a major field within science has led to many new companies copying the Genentech blueprint: having a small company creating commercially viable products to earn profits. This movement from a purely academic scope of research to a company thriving in an industrial market has become a popular choice for those interested in the sciences, offering more career opportunities. From the 1970s on, a number of companies would emerge to follow the example set by Genentech. This would result in a major growth of the field, located in California.
California has become the true center of biotechnology in the U.S, as the birth place of the industry as well as having numerous companies making products in a multitude of fields. Because of this environment, being surrounded by other biotech companies, a sense of innovation is greatly encouraged, as competition will enable a surge of creativity. This anthology details several examples of how California has become the epicenter of biotech, ranging from peculiar facts about the history of Californian biotech to present companies developing new products within the biotech field. The hotbed of innovation exhibited by the California environment is shown through the amount of diverse companies and novel products.
Sally Smith Hughes lays out the history of one of biotechnologies most important and influential companies, Genentech. From the founders early days through their most important discoveries the self explaining title Genentech, the Beginnings of Biotech, tells of how Genentech was founded in South San Francisco. According to Hughes “Genentech: The Beginnings of Biotech is the story of a pioneering genetic-engineering company that inspired a new industrial sector, transforming the biomedical and commercial landscapes ever after”(VIII). By becoming the first in the industry to synthesize insulin and Human Growth Hormone, Genentech placed themselves in history. Hughes writing tells of a new creation, “the entrepreneurial biologist” and the “intimate and people centered history traces the seminal early years of a company that devised new models for biomedical research”(xi). The importance of Herbert Boyer and Stanley Cohen in the field of biotechnology is repeatedly emphasized in Hughes’s words. This non-fiction history of Genentech is laid out for you by a leading historian of science and the University of California at Berkeley. Often, the existence of insulin for diabetics, or HGH for those who suffer from other disabilities, is taken for granted. Genentech tells the story of the struggle to recreate such complicated bio-medications.Continue reading “Genentech: A Visionary Company”→
We briefly talked about phage therapy in class, but I still didn’t quite understand how it actually related to Cohen’s work with plasmid DNA (Hughes, pg 17-19). My research lead me to an article that explains both the nature and potential applications of bacteriophages. I learned that bacteriophages are viruses that target bacteria for the purposes of viral reproduction, which in the process kills the host cell. Whereas Bacteria can, and many have, become increasingly resistant to anti-biotics, phages can actively evolve alongside their rapidly adaptive targets. From what I understand, the phages can more easily compete with bacteria than manmade anti-biotics and in the long run may prove more useful in medicinal practices; however, phages are limited in use to target bacteria with known susceptabilites to the specific therapeutic virus (Clokie.) I think it’s cool to see how DNA replication in cells can also be used to bolster our immunity against harmful bacteria.
“Furthermore, the 1976 guidelines concerned natural and complimentary DNA and contained no explicit reference to chemically synthesized DNA. The City of Hope chemists could therefore perform the gene synthesis work under ordinary lab conditions.” (Hughes, pg 92)
I really am fascinated by the seemingly radical difference that seems to exist between using natural DNA and synthetic DNA. Although we’ve discussed Genentech’s use of synthetic DNA and it’s moral advantage over natural DNA in class, we haven’t really ventured into the realm of the adjacent possible for the technology. If biotech scientists are able to synthesize entire sequences of DNA for practical use, why shouldn’t they be able to eventually create synthetic life? I found an article that details a biotech company’s success in adding two entirely new pair of nucleotide bases to the genetic code. Basically what their work has accomplished would allow for an incredible new amount of biodiversity for life on earth, assuming they can create a fully synthesized organism. Essentially, we could see ourselves playing the roles of gods. Again this sort of subject dwells within the gray “should we or should we not” territory, but I find the idea that we one day may be able to create life with a technology more unique than cloning one worth pursuing.
A passage that struck me in Chapter 12 brought up the subject of planted evidence. Weinberg recalls Fredriani’s statement during an interrogation regarding his DNA under Helena’s nails:
“As far as DNA evidence, oh, I’m sure you’ve got some DNA evidence that probably points to me. Where you got it, how you got it, that’s a whole different matter. I’ve been in your custody for a long time.” (Weinberg, pg 335)
After these words, he addresses the likelihood that police planted his DNA at the crime scene in order to the close the case. I searched for how often cases of planted evidence are recognized and found a website with several examples of shady policework; surprisingly, very few criminal cases a year involve planted evidence. Usually the officers involved in evidence planting have a vendetta against their targets, who can range from high profile suspects to ex-girlfriends and wives. Regardless as to whether Fredriani’s DNA was planted, I am not particuarly surprised that such an action, which is legally a crime, would be committed especially concerning the runningtime for this case and a longstanding, powerful desire to see Fredriani brought to justice.
A major component of this chapter was the structure of insulin, and if the Genentech team would be able to synthetically synthesize each aspect of its structure. The different chains are the protein chains encoded by the DNA, the specific gene. The process was complicated by contamination and difficulties with removing the isolated chains from the different bacterial plasmids. The amino acid sequence of each chain is unique, with the A chain having 21 amino acids and the B chain having 30 amino acids. Without a protein chemist, the Genentech team struggled in this part of the project, but were able to succeed in the end. Protein structure is very important when understanding the genetic code that produces it, such as the presence of factors like disulfide bonds, which are not fully detailed in the DNA, but affect the stability of the protein.
CRISPR-cas 9 technology allows biologist to edit genes. Cas-9 is an enzyme that works as biological scissors that can cut DNA. A small RNA molecule is required to direct the enzyme to a specific sequence of interest. Once the DNA is cut out, the natural machinery of the bodies DNA repair mechanism takes over and will seal up the cut out DNA ends. This technology can be used to alter protein/gene expression, which could be very helpful when researching ways for curing diseases. This brings up an ethical question of who should be able to alter genes? Should parents be able to alter genes of their unborn child to prevent them from being deaf, having a certain eye color, certain disease etc? If this technology was offered to the public, what would be the price?
Personally, it does not seem ethical to spend this technology editing certain genes that could make a parents ideal child. You shouldn’t be able to choose whether or not you want your child to have certain features. It almost seems as if it would be playing to role of God. It seems as if this technology was offered to the public, it would have to come with many regulations. I think that using this gene editing tool to prevent disease would be awesome though. If science was able to block a certain viral protein from being formed but cutting out the DNA that codes for it, it could prevent multiple fatal diseases. It just becomes the next question of what is the limitations of this technology? How would companies prevent people from going to far with this technology? Below is a picture of the CRISPR-cas-9 system.
Over the course of this semester, we have been discussing patents, the difficulties with patent laws, and ethical controversies over patents. I noticed this recurring theme in Chapter 1, when Reimers suggested the Cohen and Boyer patent their invention of recombinant DNA.
“Patenting in academic biomedicine was controversial on ethical grounds. . .a common belief dating to the early years of the century was that discoveries in biomedicine, especially those related to human health, should be publicly available and not restricted by patents.” ( Hughes, 21).
The Hastings Center, a “nonpartisan research institution dedicated to bioethics and the public interest” published an article written by Josephine Johnston, titled “Intellectual Property and Biomedicine.” In this article, Johnston dives into the history and concern around biomedical patents. In this article, she touches on some of the most important ethical questions around biomedical patents:
“Is it acceptable to assert ownership over material derived from the human body? Do all these patents meet the legal criteria for patenting? What are the consequences for research—could patents slow the pace of innovation by restricting access to biological materials and processes? What are the consequences for lifesaving tests and treatments—could patents limit access to them?” (Johnston)
Johnston touches on most of the important areas surrounding biomedical patents. She explains the history, advantages and disadvantage of patenting, and some of the current legal policies surrounding biomedical patents. Its easy to throw a patent on a novel, physical invention and claim ownership. The lines become blurred when the novel item in question is not physically tangible, but still beneficial and profitable. The controversy over whether or not intellectual material can or should be patented is deeper than many may suspect. This short article is a great resource for learning about some of the implications about intellectual patents and how it relates to the biomedical and biotechnology fields specifically.
After reading this book, I have realized the extent to which testing or analyzing DNA can affect someone’s life. While reading the end of the book, and interesting thought came up for me: Is it better to live in a world where DNA use is very prominent or one where DNA use is virtually nonexistent? This book advocated for the use of DNA testing, especially in cases where it will help bring a killer to justice. In that instance it seems very beneficial to society, no question. But, with DNA tests becoming more and more advanced and it being applied in different ways, there is definitely a moral conflict. DNA can now be analyzed to identify defects and mutations in humans before they are even born. You could even rearrange DNA to eliminate these things, or to essentially “customize” a human to have the traits to want it to. Also, cloning is another example where DNA tampering might be crossing the line. In my opinion, DNA is starting to reach a point where any advancements can lead to controversy. Use of DNA is fine when you are using it in a criminal setting and trying to catch a murderer or rapist. But, when it is applied in order for a government to control its people or to clone humans, it is just going too far. Especially after interviewing a biologist yesterday, DNA can be a scary thing and that some of its uses may be immoral when applied to everyday life.
“Hamer noticed a correlation: the people with more copies of the mini satellite- more stutters- exhibited a greater desire for novelty… It was one of the first studies linking a personality trait to a specified genetic state….In the coming decades, there will be a monumental leap in our knowledge of the genetic location of inherited diseases. And more and more genes will be discovered that link behavior to the chemicals in our brains, and genes tied to our urges and emotions” -Weinberg p 349-350
I think that if Weinberg were to comment on her speculation today, almost 15 years after the publication of her book, she would say genetic disease typing is moving a lot slower than she thought. I myself might just be out of the loop, but I feel like there have not been any major leaps forward in the field that studies genetic links to our personalities.
On the other hand, a 2012 article describing a study done by British researchers asserts that nature (genes) play more of a role in our personalities than nurture does, supposedly providing an answer to the nature vs. nurture debate. The study showed that identical twins were twice more likely to share personality traits than non-identical twins, who do not have identical DNA. The researchers focused on personality traits such as perseverance and self-control, and showed that there was the biggest genetic difference in these types of traits, i.e. the ability to keep going when things got hard. The researchers were less focused on individual talent, and more about what drove that talent.
I think that this is a very interesting and diverse field, with plenty of room for several applications and a great potential to make people’s lives better by understanding and diagnosing their conditions efficiently. But I also think it leaves a lot of room for ambiguity, particularly where what doctors diagnose as psychological conditions intermingle with what would now be known to be genetic predisposition. I also think that people might have more excuses for their behavior, now that they could blame their actions on DNA, or almost like instinct, as if they were forced to do something. But I think the biggest issue comes from what Weinberg was afraid of, completely knowing what every trait and gene in our body do and having a map of them. I think this is a ethical dilemma, and further research in this area would be open to ethical scrutiny of not done carefully.
In chapter 18, Frediani’s lawyer David Bartick takes an interesting approach regarding the DNA evidence being used in the case. He specifically states, “DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, but in this case, what the DNA is going to stand for is, DOES NOT APPLY.” I think it is very interesting that Bartick takes such a negative stance regarding the new technology and science that could prove his clients innocence. One would think that Frediani would be an extreme advocate of the use of DNA in hopes that it would finally set the truth state regarding his criminal activity. If Frediani had really not committed the murder, I think he would be much supportive of using DNA tests to prove that. All he would need is to prove that his DNA did not match any of that found at the crime scene. However, Bartick with his theatrical opening statement and negative view of DNA, seems almost desperate. Anyone who so blatantly claims their innocence would want to prove their case in the most accurate and efficient way possible, which for Frediani would be the use of DNA. DNA testing has not always been kind to Frediani, but he understand the weight it holds in court and if he could use that to his advantage, I don’t see why he wouldn’t.
Chapter 18 of Pointing from the Grave continues with Frediani’s trail. Bartick begins questioning the DNA samples that were collected at the scene of the crime. He brings up the hair sample that was picked up by hand, and placed into an old dirty cigarette box. Clearly this is no proper way to handle DNA that can put somebody in prison for the rest of their life. So that got me thinking, “What is the proper way to handle a hair sample?” I went online and found the article that I attached below. It’s pretty interesting check it out. It discusses the ins and outs of collecting DNA samples at a crime scene, particularly hair. Go to the web link below an click on the section titled hair.
“Taylor’s laboratory had spent the last year running all sorts of tests on the Profiler Plus system and the 310 Genetic Analyzer, he told Bartick. On numerous occasions, the results had been, at best, ambiguous.” -Weinberg 259
I find it very astounding to think that DNA tests that were being used to test people’s innocence or guilt in certain situations were not giving clear results. I think that when people’s lives are at stake, everything should be as blatantly clear as possible. This obviously ties in to the Innocence Project and its purpose of freeing wrongly convicted people, but it was from the other side: using DNA evidence to show that people were innocent. I think that it is a hard line to walk, especially because DNA evidence has the power to be so influential, so it is important that it be used ethically and carefully.
This also brings into question the nature of the court system and prosecution. Why were they so quick to accept the lab results given to them? I think it was because they were amazed by the infallibility of DNA. But as infallible as science is, it can be fallible when handled or interpreted incorrectly, either on purpose or unknowingly. I think that the best solution for this is to do all testing blind, but most importantly, make sure the technology is 100 percent accurate before it is used to convict someone of a crime. I think the end goal of the courts should be to find the person who committed the crime, not just a person.
“In the United States, Governor George Ryan of Illinois, a pro-death-penalty Republican, imposed a moratorium on capital punishment after thirteenth wrongly convicted man was released from death row in his state following DNA confirmation of his innocence”-(Weinberg 249-250)
The general consensus for DNA is that it is the best form of evidence when dealing with high profile cases. Often it has been used to put away the right people however, there have been cases to which the DNA was tampered with leaving innocent people in jail or worse dead. The death penalty is something very unique to this country as most developed nations have gone away from using capital punishment. There have been instances in which the prosecution or defense tampers with the DNA results leaving the jury to make an imperfect decision. Therefore what is the best solution to this very serious problem. I for one believe there should be more government intervention in order to avoid this problem of killing innocent people. Yet, in this case DNA here spared a man’s life as it proved his innocence.
“I thought then that a person who was innocent, as he had proclaimed through two trials, would certainly want to see the results of DNA testing before going to trial…the fact that he avoided the DNA testing by pleading spoke volumes” (Weinberg: 180).
“And he got away with it; got away with it until now. Thank you” (Weinberg: 321).
These quotes, both from persecutors in the sexual assault case and murder respectively, really show the guilt behind Frediani. But what was his motive? Well, there are multiple reasons why he may have committed the sexual assault, but it seems that DNA was the answer behind a no contest plea in the first case, indicating something deeper about this case that truly makes you believe that he had motive to kill.
That’s what crime is all about, isn’t it? Motive. It is the inspiration to do your crime. Why commit something if you have no motive. Motive truly is the most important aspect of a criminal case, for without any motive, it seems to be quite difficult to demonstrate that a defendant has a reason to do whatever the crime may be. It’s not hard to illustrate circumstantial evidence that is coincidental and superficial; however, once there is a concrete reason as to why the circumstantial lines up with other details, motive can be established, consisting of reason and logic for the particular act.
In Chapter 17 of Pointing From The Grave by Samantha Weinberg, David Bartick, the defense lawyer hired by the Frediani’s considers using the defense of planted evidence to get Paul acquitted of his charges. In tv shows on a regular basis cops plant evidence on criminals to get convictions. But how often does this happen in real life? how many times do the police get caught doing it? This article sheds some light on cops planting evidence. It would have been completely possible for police to plant Frediani’s dna since it had already been collected by law enforcement, so is there a federal agency watching over this case like in the ones mentioned in the article? Perhaps the lab did in fact plant the dna to get a conviction since Frediani was the only suspect.
In Chapter 16, Weinberg takes a trip to visit Helena’s father, Sydney Greenwood. During her visit, Sydney recounts many memories of his life as a young man, and of Helena’s life. He prided on her accomplishments, and when speaking on her life and murder said:
“Her killer took her life, but he did not silence her. It has taken fifteen years, but I know Helena has spoken from the grave to indict her killer” (244)
This passage gave me chills because it acknowledges the irony of Helena’s career and its connection to her death. Helena had studied the versatility of DNA, and it is ironic to see what a large part it plays in her murder case. Would she be proud of the advancements of her field even though she was a clear sacrifice for its progression? It is grim subject, but I cannot help but wonder.
While Chapter 16 discussed issues involving the verdict of the case, there was heavy discussion on the importance and advancements of DNA. Particularly involving the Human Genome Project and the ability to genetically identify individuals characteristics, traits, and diseases based on their genome and genetic sequence. In regard to these ideas, there was talk of inappropriate reasons for genetic testing such as genetic engineering if children, and aborting fetuses due to unhappiness with traits that are expressed by fetuses. I thought this was very interesting however, with such a new advancement Weinberg never touched upon the risks of genetic testing. She stated that individuals terminate pregnancies due to unwanted characteristics in the fetus however, can genetic testing also cause that unwanted characteristic? Are there risks? Below is a link from the NIH listing the risks of genetic testing. While it suggests that risks are low due to only using blood samples or cheek swabs, there is severe risk of harming the baby and causing disabilities when doing prenatal testing such as amniocentesis. Thus, it is also important to look at the risks of doing such procedures before looking at the strengths immediately for such a new advancement.
Chapter 14 references the movement of DNA samples from police to genetic crime labs, highlighting the process by which DNA can be identified in limited amounts for probably suspects. However, this process of DNA analysis is very time consuming, and does not immediately produce results. The main issue with this is backlog, where DNA crime labs have an enormous amount of DNA samples from a multitude of cases, forcing some cases to be stalled as the experiments for the analysis are delayed, or not even started. This can be a very serious issue, as most of these samples are involved in sexual assault cases, but may not be analyzed due to the expanding list of samples to go through the protocols. This website gives a quick look at how police use DNA and how backlogs are a major issue at the present time. DNA Backlog
Lately in class we have been talking police cover-ups and planted DNA at crime scenes to convict certain individuals, which poses the question, how would someone manage to do this? Moreover, if authorities are in control of all of the evidence present in a case, what are the chances that the police decide “speed up” a case progression by planting evidence, or convicting the wrong person? I recently read an article about tactics police sometimes use called “coaxing”, which is a tactic that tries to force a confession out of person, guilty or not. This method was brought to the public’s eyes after Stephen Avery (Netflix series Making A Murderer) was wrongfully convicted of a crime he never commit. Aside from disregarding some potentially case changing evidence that would have cleared Avery’s name, they forced his cousin into a confession without the presence of council. Unlike something like a murder, planting evidence usually doesn’t leave behind any traces of and is probably most unexpected thing a prosecutor/detective would be looking for. With our sophisticated methods of analyzing DNA and matching it to people, it would be extremely hard for a jury to believe something that the DNA evidence doesn’t directly point to, especially in a case like Helena’s where DNA evidence and 1 measly fingerprint were the only tangible evidence against Frediani. In this decade we have seen hundreds of overturned cases and people exonerated of their crimes because of the incredible technology we have at our disposal. However, sometimes I believe that too much faith is put into our justice system, and certain unfortunate individuals are caught in “wrong place, wrong time” moments and find themselves staring at life in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.
“Only a one in 37 million chance of having caught the wrong guy seemed to the police a safe bet. The problem is that Raymond Easton’s chance of being innocent was not one in 37 million – but only one in thirty-seven.” (Weinberg, 219)
I think this quote displays how the results of DNA can differ greatly depending on what you are looking for. In the burglary case involving Raymond Easton that was briefly mentioned, police believed they had a solid match for the DNA found at the crime scene. The tests they ran matched Easton completely, giving them a 1 in 37 million chance that they had the wrong guy. But, Easton would not admit to the crime. He was an old man, living much too far away from the crime scene and suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He could barely get out of his wheelchair, much less drive hundreds of miles to commit a robbery. The odds the police had the wrong man were actually much, much smaller than they had originally anticipated. The six loci that were tested did not give the police a 1 in 37 million chance like they had believed, but a 1 in 37 chance. The original DNA tested had led them to the wrong man, leading me to believe that DNA might not be as concrete a form of evidence as people are led to believe.
” I said something along the lines of, ‘This looks very promising, but for it to be used in court, we have to pass the Frye standard.’ I outlined the possible weaknesses, as I saw them; validation of the statistics, standards for matches, all the things that seemed pretty apparent to us. I thought I had given a nice talk about what would have to be done, when this woman from the Orange County crime lab stood up and said, ‘This kind of talk is dangerous. You shouldn’t be saying these kinds of things in public. Defense lawyers might find out about this and use it’ ” -Weinberg 192
I think that this attitude from forensic scientists says a lot. Firstly, I think that it shows the bias that at the time forensic scientists had towards defendants in general: they strove to prove them guilty. This statement from this woman shows that she and forensic scientists as a community were most likely to be on the side of the prosecution. This is even proven after Weinberg points out that the DNA testing was never done blind, and so forensic scientists were basically giving their own personal verdicts to the prosecution and courts.
This attitude is very alarming to me personally, because I consider myself a scientist also. It worries me to think that other scientists would inject their own opinions and biases into evidence and use science as a means to an end. For me, science and the discovery of new things should come from and be used as a way to make everyone’s lives easier and more efficient, not to meet one’s own personal agenda. It is also alarming to think that these labs and the courts were not monitoring the DNA testing, so that it would be blind. Weinberg even mentions that a scientist who studied the DNA of birds could’t even imagine doing her experiments unblinded. If birds are monitored so closely, why weren’t humans? Are they not more important and aren’t the implications more drastic? I feel as though this situation was almost a breach of ethics.
“The UK has always been at the forefront of forensic DNA research, he states quietly , “and we still are” (Chapter 14 ,page 220)
Chapter 14 of Pointing from the Grave mentions how the United Kingdom has always been leading in DNA research and holds a database for a select number of UK individuals. The database is very helpful for solving crimes and the database will continue to grow. I researched about DNA databases and find out that Kuwait is creating a mandatory DNA database. A huge islamic led suicide bombing hit Kuwait city a year ago and government officials believe that a DNA database will make it easier for arrests. It will only deb used for criminal security cases. All Kuwaiti citizens and visitors will be asked to submit their DNA. “Any person who refuses to submit to the DNA tests and data mining operation will be subject to $33,000 in fines and up to one year in prison. Any person who provides a fake sample will face up to seven years.”
When not enough evidence is presented in a case and no one is found guilty, it becomes a cold case. Cold cases were especially common when not enough technology existed for things like DNA testing, or simply keeping evidence form being tampered with. A few articles in the Huntington Post told of cold cases that were finally solved after as long as twenty years. New evidence had been found and DNA testing gave the answers. Suspects who had not enough proof to convict them were finally put behind bars. As seen with Helena’s case, the police do all they can to put an end to a case and provide closure. More cold cases should be looked into with the new technology.
“For every case in which the criminal justice systems of the world has been proven – primarily through the agency of DNA – to be too eager to convict the innocent, there are multiple examples of guilty people slipping through their nets and escaping punishment” -Weinberg, pg 201
It has been a great topic of controversy whether people should go to jail if their fingerprint is found in the place where the murder happened or if the person that was murdered had the DNA of someone else. However, the Innocent project tries to calm down convictions so that people that could be innocent do not go to jail. In my opinion, someone who goes to jail only in the basis of DNA should not be found guilty. So the Innocent project makes a lot of sense, because it is not fair for people to convicted in a crime with only one compromising evidence. Therefore, it is important that they do not act with eagerness.
“The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.” (The Innocence Project Mission Statement)
In Chapter 13, Weinberg talks about the innocence project, whose purpose is to exonerate falsely convicted people of crimes they did not commit. But just how effective and successful is the innocence project? As of March 17th, 2016 there have been 337 DNA exonerations led by the innocence project. However, almost half of those cases become cold cases again, after exoneration, because only 166 of the 337 cases have successfully found the correct perpetrators; the rest of the cases let the innocent person free but have yet to find the true guilty party. The innocence project says that the leading causes of wrongful conviction were: eyewitness misidentification, unvalidated or improper forensic science, false confessions and incriminating statements, and informants.
Other interesting facts about the cases the innocence project takes on were…
• The first DNA exoneration took place in 1989. Exonerations have been won in 37 states; since 2000, there have been 263 exonerations.
• 20 of the 337 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row. Another 16 were charged with capital crimes but not sentenced to death.
• The average length of time served by exonerees is 14 years. The total number of years served is approximately 4,606.
• The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions was 26.5.
– See more at: http://www.innocenceproject.org/free-innocent/improve-the-law/fact-sheets/dna-exonerations-nationwide#sthash.GMTgnMoV.dpuf
In this chapter there were ideas contemplating whether or not DNA should be admissible in court. This reasoning is based off the notion that prosecution teams and juries filled with average citizens are likely to know minimal information when it comes to DNA and DNA testing. I do not think it is fair that the prosecution and jury are expected to blindly accept information that they know close to nothing about, I think that this can lead to many false convictions and acquisitions and that is not fair to an innocent defendant. Yes it does help with many convictions but I think that the risk here outweighs the reward, there is always a chance of false conviction, do you think an innocent mans life is worth the continuation of DNA use in court
“DNA evidence must always be looked at in the context of the evidence that has to be analyzed. It is an aid, not a substitute for police work.” -Weinberg, pg. 221
I think this quote from the British forensic scientist answers a lot of questions we’ve discussed in class, most importantly whether or not it was just to convict someone on DNA evidence alone. Even though it can point to a single person out of thousands or millions, DNA is still just a type of evidence. It can certainly help build a strong case against a suspect, but it’s important that those working in the justice system acknowledge that DNA is only a piece.
Say DNA is found at the scene of a crime, and it’s a perfect match for a prime suspect. A DNA match shouldn’t automatically call for a conviction; if the suspect has a solid alibi, they shouldn’t be convicted for that crime, despite what the DNA says.
“Pre-O. J., few people had ever heard of DNA; the trial changed all that; to this day, in the US at least, its three initials are inextricably linked to Simpson’s two.”- (Weinberg 202)
Few cases have ever garnered so much media attention at once. However, the OJ Simpson case was one of those few cases that become a media sensation. DNA was a piece of evidence rarely used in court before however, due to the magnitude of the case it was essential. It appeared in the text that the DNA used in court was tampered with and switched leading to believe that Mr. Simpson did not commit the crime. Recently I saw the ESPN 30 for 30 on the Duke lacrosse scandal. The documentary pointed out the prosecution running his own DNA test and thus tampering with the results leading to believe that the lacrosse players committed the crime. Eventually all players were found innocent and prosecutor was disbarred. Both these high profile cases illustrate the issues with DNA testing. Once brought up in court it is very hard to argue DNA tests even if in the end they are wrong. This brings up the issue of the negatives of DNA testing and how science can easily be manipulated.
“I was 99 percent sure it was him,” says Laura Helig…But I had heard about this new technology, STRs…I knew they could give us results on really tiny samples (Weinberg 216).
This new form of analyzing DNA emerged in 1999 and was exactly what Helig needed to catch Helena Greenwood’s killer. Short Tandem Repeats could not only be used on small amounts of DNA but could also give specificity. This article goes into detail about STR testing. Essentially the labs like SERI that worked on Fredini’s DNA analyzed the 6-loci tandem repeats and they matched the DNA found under Helena’s fingernails, which had been stored in evidence since the attack, almost a decade earlier. STR analysis was able to use the small amount of very old DNA found under Helena’s fingernails and match it to Frediani’s DNA which was kept in a DOJ freezer because he was a sex offender. This was the beginning of databases like CODIS that emerged in 1998 to catch criminals even easier then with just STR.
“In the forensic world, the people who are doing the interpretation are, in most cases, considered part of the prosecution team; they meet with the detectives, they know the particulars of the case, often they have strong expectations of what they are going to see…’I am a psychologist,’ Thompson says. ‘My research [says]…what you expect to see and want to see influences what you do see…” -Weinberg, 194
Since forensic scientists are working with the organic evidence and DNA of a case, they should be objective members of the prosecution team. They work directly with the only true links to a crime scene and should be examining the evidence without a personal agenda. However, since they are given all of the information of the case, and are usually hired by the defense or prosecutor to prove that particular side’s case, it becomes difficult to not become personally invested in the research.
William Thompson points out that what a person expects and wants to see will affect how they see what is in front of them. So if a scientist, believing that the accused is guilty, sees an ambiguous analysis or interpretation of evidence, it is possible that they will see a link to the crime. Weinberg gives the example of the scientist who found DNA that could only possibly match the suspect, but insisted that it matched because of there circumstances in which the investigators found the evidence.
This problematic form of scientific analysis poisons the justice system, and gives objective, true evidence the potential to be unreliable.
In this chapter, Frediani is required to submit a blood test before he is considered a “free man” (Weinberg, 180). The testing is necessary of him as a result of a new law that was established in 1988, stating that “convicted sexual assault offenders provide blood samples to the Department of Justice” (Weinberg, 109). This test is done mainly for future reference, as it makes it easier for future DNA analysis. I was interested to know more information about this law and the DNA database, and looked to Legal Match to better my knowledge. The website informed me that while DNA collection is currently mandatory in all states, 47 states require that DNA samples be taken from all convicted felons, some even from juvenile offenders. Since all suspects may be required to provide tests/samples depending on the state, ethics are brought into question. Some believe that DNA testing interferes with privacy. Blood samples, in particular, are often believed to be a bodily invasion of privacy. Some argue that the DNA database is too easily accessible, and should be kept more private. It is especially a concern when dealing with juveniles, who can be tracked down by those with access to the DNA database. This issue brings up the question of whether or not DNA testing is a violation of the Constitution. The FBI’s Combined DNA Database System is a collection of all DNA samples across the 50 states, but some argue that it violates the Fourth Amendment, which states that unauthorized searches are prohibited. A person, guilty for crime or not, can be called into question simply because they have a sample of DNA in the database that is similar to the DNA found at a crime scene.
“But there are plenty of business knocking at the commercial labs’ doors, and there were compelling commercial incentives for each lab to keep its products and processes secret” -(Weinberg 178)
Each year science and scientific research has become more expensive. Now in order to keep a laboratory running one must have enough grant money to keep the investment afloat. DNA research and experimentation is one the businesses in which scientists seek to keep their products and processes a secret due to the competition in the market. If a labs DNA tests or processes came out then eventually that lab would shut down as another company would use that research to profit. Therefore it is a necessity for labs to keep their DNA results secret. However, on the other side it could halt or impede upon scientific progress. If new discoveries in DNA were kept secret due to a lab fearing of other companies using the research then does it stop the flow of ideas in science. It is a very tough question to answer and one option could be the government spending more money on biotechnology research or providing more subsidies for labs.
In Chapter 8 of Pointing from the Grave, we read about the first case that used DNA fingerprinting to catch sexual abuser, and murderer, Colin Pitchfork. We are introduced to Alec Jeffreys early in the chapter, for he was a geneticist who was interested in discovering how differences in DNA can be used to identify criminals. Jeffreys’ method was also used in the case of a Ghanaian boy who was denied entry back into his country of birth, England.
“He was stopped and detained by immigration officers at the airport, who suspected that a substitution might have occurred. Conventional serological tests-including ABO and PGM- showed that the woman and the boy appeared to be related” (Weinberg 117)
The DNA fingerprinting allowed for the boy’s reunion with his family, but the case really struck me as odd. However, I understand why there was a concern. It made me wonder how many times this is used, falsely or otherwise, on immigrants coming into Western countries. I was also intrigued by the “mass blooding” discussed in the chapter because it seemed like a strange strategy to go about finding a perpetrator, but the method was probably devised out of desperation.
“Alex Jeffreys was delighted, and more than anything by the fact that Pitchfork was eventually tracked down by a marriage between science and police work. ‘That was important. The union kept the police happy, and showed that DNA can’t do anything by itself'” – Weinberg, p125
This quote really struck me while I was reading this chapter. I found it very interesting that Jeffreys pointed out that DNA alone does not accomplish much. This quote made me think about the individual aspects that both police and science bring to the table, and how together they achieve something great. Science, or more specifically DNA, needs to be paired with something, such as police force or crime investigation, in order to prove itself useful. I thought Weinberg showcased the influence police and science have on each other very successfully by using the word “marriage.” By using this idea of mixing two elements, in this case police and science, the readers can get a full sense of how police and science work together to solve crimes. Alone, police would be less effective in solving crimes because they would not have the technology to test DNA samples. Similarly, science would have no place in solving crimes if the police did not utilize the accomplishments made in the scientific field.
Ian Kelly gave blood in Colin’s place because Colin was going around asking his coworkers to give blood because he had a record. I was wondering if this occurred often because i had heard of people using someone else’s urine for a urine test but never of using blood. I found an article about a case that happened where the man also used someones else’s blood in hopes of avoiding the police. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Schneeberger
John Schneeberger avoided the police by putting blood that was not his own into his body and thus his DNA did not come up. He implanted blood from another man so that when his blood was drawn for a DNA test his own DNA did not come up. It is very shocking that they based so much of the case on DNA because his one victim was even able to remember his sexual assault on her but this was not enough to convict John.
The case in the book and in real life really opened my eyes up to how DNA maybe should not be the only thing considered in a case since there are possible ways to fake this.
With an increasing reliance on DNA evidence, it is crucial police officers are trained to handle crime scenes properly. Police officers in Colorado are undergoing extensive training to ensure evidence is not tampered with during any part of an investigation. A brutal Colorado murder was solved through the use of DNA blood sampling and really promoted the public and police departments support for better funded training. if officers are trained before stepping on a crime scene, less mistakes will happen and more accurate suspects will be found.
I found Alec Jeffery’s discovery of genetic fingerprinting very interesting and of course it has been very useful in solving crimes since its birth. At this point in the book, Paul has been convicted for the sexual act against Helena Greenwood, but the fact that 14% of the total population had the same matching secretion as the semen left behind on her pillowcase makes the case a little less certain. Paul’s attorney desperately tried to argue, even though his client matched, that 14% of the people in the area is a large number of possible offenders. If genetic fingerprinting were to be used, prosecutors could tell for certain if the semen left at the scene of the crime was in fact Paul’s. The same way that Colin Pitchfork was convicted for his brutal double rape and homicides, Paul could definitely revealed as the culprit. This type of DNA analysis could also be used to find Helena’s killer. Below is a link to an article that highlights an interview that Alec Jeffery participated in. Jeffery’s discovery all the way back in 1984 is discussed.
In my Moodle questions this week, i asked “Since the police depend so much on DNA evidence when investigating certain crimes, would it be ethical for the government to create a database with the DNA of all American citizens?” Turns out, such a database exists today! The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS for short) allows the FBI and other government agencies to use DNA analysis to solve a myriad of problems, from missing persons cases to murder and rape trials like the one in Pointing from the Grave. Many people would say that this gives governments too much power, allowing them to know too much about its citizens. Perhaps in the future, this database could even be used to clone people or grow organs for them! I thought this was really cool, and just goes to show that you should always check for facts before asking questions!
One of the most “newsworthy” types of stories is the story of a person who was previously convicted and then freed on new DNA evidence. The Netflix documentary Making a Murderer, which has grown rapidly in popularity and sparked a lot of debate, covers a man wrongly convicted of murder and then freed in 2003. When pondering the questions that this series and other stories like it ask, many are starting to suspect that many in prison right now are innocent, and could be freed like Steven Avery, the convict in Making a Murderer. This article from the New York Times talks about the difficulties convicts have getting DNA tests while imprisoned by the American justice system.
From our favorite crimes shows, to our favorite detective novels or movies, one thing that always remains constant, is that a crime scene needs to be handled with immense care and delicacy. In Chapter 6, Helena is brutality murdered, and the scene of the crime is being observed. The book goes into detail describing how Helena’s hands were bagged. It describes her body positioning and various other details about the crime scene that could possibly lead to clues about Helena’s attacker. I began doing a little bit of research about crime scene investigation, and one of the first articles that I found was fairly interesting. It was written by a detective office in West Palm Beach, Florida, and it discusses the importance of body positioning, collecting samples with care, and the need for photographs. Check out the article, it’s pretty cool!
After reading chapter 6 from Pointing from the Grave, I was very alarmed by the events that occurred. It was very surprising to be in the midst of the trial and then to learn of Helena’s death. While this took me by surprise, I did like how the novel progressed in the field of biotechnology and forensics. In this chapter we were introduced to a new form of biotechnology and crime scene analysis through the way in which evidence was collected from the crime scene, how evidence was analyzed, and how that evidence will be used. Specifically, I thought it was interested that now we can understand DNA through skin cells gathered from underneath Helena’s fingernails. Skin cells shed every day and have many traces of DNA with in them. Yet again, we learned of a way in which DNA can be detected. The link below goes into detail about how analysts can extract the DNA from skin cells from a supernatant and a gathered pellet. The DNA can then be analyzed. I think it is very interesting that even the smallest traces of DNA play very large roles in detecting a suspect. It is also interesting to see how technology has advanced so much as seen in the explanations of the link below.
“A single print found under the lip of the teapot .. after studying it using a microscope, he found sixteen separate points of comparison, all of which matched.” .. “He (Frediani) cannot believe that he will be convicted on such flimsy evidence” – pg. 56
What constitutes significant evidence in a criminal case like this? I had to read this quote twice to make sure I was reading correctly that Frediani didn’t think his own unique fingerprint– on a teapot inside the house of the woman he is accused of sexually assaulting, would convict him of a crime. Honestly, I think this is one of the best pieces of evidence that Chaput and his team could have taken from that crime scene. Fingerprints are unique to individuals, meaning that no two people have the same fingerprint. Frediani’s fingerprint in Helena’s house is a nail in the coffin for at least burglary, and should prolong a further investigation into this incident. Highlighting the circumstances, here you have a man (Frediani) who is already a sex offender and has been convicted for public indecency and stalking in the past, who is the only suspect in this sexual assault case. With the addition of his fingerprint being found on a teapot inside the victims home, I don’t think you can classify this finger print as “flimsy evidence”.
“He looked for footprints, and found some small ones to the west of the house, where the dirt had been raked. But there was a covering of leaves over the dirt… He noticed some scrape marks on a section of the bamboo fence…” – Weinberg 72
On the two question forum, a question that came up time and time again was whether the outdoor crime scene had any effect on the case. Because the murder happened outside, was there any evidence that was contaminated or lost due to elements out of the detective’s control, such as the weather? According to all-about-forensic-science, the outdoor crime scene is by far the most vulnerable to the loss of physical evidence in such a short period of time. If the scene isn’t secured almost immediately, evidence can be lost or tampered with. Environmental conditions, such as rain, cold, snow, or in San Diego and in Helena’s case, heat, can tamper physical evidence. Likewise, there is no way to protect the evidence in its natural state: you can either move it, which is problematic, or you can leave it and hope that outside elements do not interfere.
The major difference between identical and fraternal twins are the number of fertilized eggs in the process. Identical twins come from the same fertilized egg. This happens when a single embryo splits into two after fertilization. Identical twins have the same DNA because they come from the same embryo. After much research, I found out that the splitting of an embryo happens by chance and genes are not involved. Fraternal twins happens when two separate eggs are fertilized by different sperm. Due to the different sperm the DNA of fraternal twins has to be different. Women become pregnant during ovulation when an egg is released to the sperm and is fertilized. Women usually release one egg during a cycle but for fraternal twins to happen, two eggs are released during one cycle. This is called hyper ovulation. Some women have genes that enable them to hyper ovulate while others release only one egg.
One of the most controversial topics in Pointing From the Grave, so far, has been determining whether or not the fingerprint found on the teapot is enough to incriminate Frediani. Three samples were collected: the fingerprint on the teapot, the semen, and pubic hairs. Now that the fingerprint came out to a match and qualified Frediani to be a suspect, and the samples of semen were sent to a lab, the only evidence that can be tested is the pubic hairs. However, Frediani’s attorney claims that the pubic hairs could belong to anyone including, Helena herself, her husband, or any guest that has ever slept in their bed. Through the DNA analyzing technology that we have developed we are able to analyze the DNA in hair strands. However, I did more research about the process of DNA testing using hair samples. To my surprise, hair samples do not actually provide the most accurate sample of DNA. In fact, the article claims that hair samples are the “most overestimated and misrepresented DNA samples”(Hughes). I have attached the article below. Check it out it!
We have recently been discussing the ethics of DNA sequencing and having a database with our sequences contained for either legal or public use. There have been so many advances in technology for collecting DNA samples and efficiently analyzing them within a lab setting. However, the beginning struggle of collecting these samples is having a sample to compare it to, in this case a perpetrator. This idea of not having a suspect at hand and having DNA that has no sample to compare it to brings the discussion of having a DNA bank with all individuals genetic information placed in it. This seems like a logical way to solve this situation but is it reasonable and ethical? There is always the statement that if you’re not doing anything illegal than why does it matter that the government has your DNA information? Our documents are not impossible to reach if they are needed in a legal situation. This is seen as an invasion of privacy and makes many people uneasy.
In my molecular genetics and synthetic biology courses, we were required to use systems such as GenBank to input sequences into a BLAST search to look for other similar sequences. It is advantageous to scientist because it can identify sequences that they might not know where it comes from.
How we approached this in molecular genetics was we had an Autorad sequence and we needed to figure out the individual ATGC arrangement, in a linear fashion: AGCCTACGATAG for example. Once we manual wrote down every base we were able to put into the blast search that would tell us what it was (enzyme, protein, etc. ), where it was mostly found (animal, plant etc.) what chromosome it is found on, and many other features. This GenBank is public information and allows other scientist around the world to compare their findings of sequencing with others.
The National DNA Database is one of the best options at the disposal of law enforcement to identify criminals. On the other hand, many people believe that it invades personal privacy because it was originally created to build a group of criminal profiles, and now it seems to have become a database for all citizens and non criminals alike. In our generation of technological savvy information systems and software, it is pretty easy to find out who exactly someone is based on their DNA and genetic information. I personally have no issue with law enforcement being able to access my DNA, but some believe that the access to this information can reveal ethnicity and disease susceptibility. Our DNA is literally everywhere, your skin cells are all over everything you touch and your saliva cells are on everything you drink or eat from. Therefore, I think it seems as if even without this DNA database, if someone wanted to get access to your DNA, or find out more about you, they would be able to anyway regardless. Furthermore, isn’t it a positive thing if the police know how to identify you? DNA analysis has helped identify missing people and human remains, so I think the pros outweigh the cons in terms of questioning whether a DNA database is ethical in our country.
In Chapter 4 of Pointing from the Grave, Frediani disputes all claims laid against only to later admit to them, claiming that he was drunk and that’s why. Along these pretences, I began to think about how often suspects lie and if it ever works in reverse; do suspects ever falsely admit to something they never actually did? After doing some research about this, I stumbled upon the Innocence Project’s website where they claim that false admissions are a huge factor in wrongful convictions. They stated that “more than 1 out of 4 people wrongfully convicted but later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement.” Their example was that of Damon Thibodeaux, a young man who eventually admitted to raping his cousin, whose body had been found earlier that night. His story was inconsistent with injuries on the victim and it did not make sense in a timeline but that was not sufficient enough evidence to counter his admission. Damon wrongfully served 15 years in a federal prison before DNA evidence freed him.
“In the Future, murderers would not be able to claim bloodstains on their shirts came from their families dinner”(Weinberg, 51).
Throughout the whole book so far, DNA has been needed to try to identify the suspect. In chapter 4, they finally use the DNA of the fingerprint and other genetic substances to identify Paul as the guilty party. Since its inception in the early 1900’s DNA has been the powerhouse of crime solving. But is it even now still not 100 percent efficient? Its known that no two people have the same fingerprints, but could two people have ones that are so close that there could be a mistake? and what if two people have similar genetic makeups, like family? There can still be error, even with its most dependency, confession could be the most effective way of finishing a crime.
In chapter 5 of the book, a good amount of time was spent discussing the childhood and teenage years of Paul Frediani. He had a lot of health problems as a kid and also did not get along with his father especially well. He didn’t have a great child but that in no way means that he would end up on the wrong end of a sexual assault case as an adult. Is a person’s personality and character traits more a product of DNA, engrained in them since birth? Or is it more about the environment you are raised in, which shapes who you are through experiences and interactions with the people surrounding you?
In Chapter 4, I think it was really interesting how they talked about the development of finger printing and DNA testing in general. Forensic science is an enormous part of everyday life in every country now, especially in law enforcement. Before forensic science, “justice” was pretty much a huge blame game, with the defendant claiming one thing and the plaintiff claiming another. Finger printing and DNA testing has eliminated the guessing game in the justice system, providing concrete evidence to back any claim made in court. But, the development of this science did not happen over night. Finger printing came first, the blood tests, and so on. Scientists all over the world were working simultaneously to transform the science in to what it is today. However, did any of these scientists work together or examine each other’s works? Could they have split up the work and developed it more quickly, or was the gradual increase of technology and knowledge necessary in making forensic science what it is today?
Chapter 4 of Pointing From the Grave continues the idea of fingerprinting, and matching DNA samples to incriminate a suspect in a case. Helena’s husband receives a call to their home saying that the fingerprint sample found on the teapot outside of window has matched a criminal who has sexually abused women before. Police were able to obtain a warrant for this man’s arrest all because his fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime. This is just one of many different ways that DNA can help in criminal cases. I began to do some more research about DNA analyzing, and testing samples to match them to a suspect. I found a pretty cool article. I definitely think you guys should take a look if you get a chance. It’s about the different steps of analyzing DNA and what it can tell us about biology and genetics.The link is below. Hope you enjoy!
This article talks about David Butler, who spent eight wrongful months in prison after being convicted off of DNA testing. Butler faced murder charges after his DNA was allegedly found on the victim. The results showed a partial match of his DNA and was enough for the police to convict him. He had originally given the police his DNA before following a burglary in his mother’s home, so there was a record of him. People are beginning to believe the current climate of relying mainly on DNA testing has made police lazy. Had Butler not previously given DNA to be a partial match, would even have been linked to the murder? How many people could have also been a partial match and just not in the system? New innovations must be made to change the current system of relying on DNA or proven inaccurate eyewitness testimony.
“He could not believe that he will be convicted on such flimsy evidence, but Collins has warned him that he must be prepared to go to trial.” – Weinberg, page 56
Whether he is guilty or not, his DNA was found in a pot outside Helena’s house. We are aware that DNA is a very concrete evidence, however the fact it was outside changes a lot of things. Anyone could have touched that pot and could have been wrongly convicted. When there is a DNA role I believe that it has taken from a place that prosecutors are certain that only them could have committed the crime. If there is something that plays such a big role in finding criminals like DNA, we should be more careful of where we find it. If not, a lot of people may be convicted for wrong things.
“Over the following years, Lattes, and a growing band of fellow forensic serologists, were called in to use both the precipitin test and blood grouping in an increasing number of cases. Although they acknowledged that they were nowhere near being able to tell whether a bloodstain came from a particular person- the groupings were far too large for that- and it was of no help if the victim and suspect shared the same blood type, the techniques proved to be powerful in excluding suspects, narrowing down the list of potential culprits, and above all, as tools to produce a confession” (Weinberg 53)
The discovery of the precipitin test started a trend of forensic discoveries. But each of these tools that scientists uncovered proved to be useful only in eliminating suspects, not finding guilt. Like Weinberg said “the techniques proved to be powerful in excluding suspects”. Not until the ability to profile DNA was discovered were scientists able to prove guilt of a suspect. This perhaps is why the detectives in the case of Helena and Mr. Frediani were forced to question him instead of just simply arresting him. They could prove that he was indeed on the scene but not that he committed the crime. They were using the tools that were covered in the chapter like the precipitin test to exclude other suspects and use them to “produce a confession” from Mr. Frediani.
Chapter 5 of Pointing from the Grave, rerouted back to the trail of Frediani and Helena. Throughout this chapter, results of the semen tests were shared. It was stated that the analyst was able to deduce that Frediani is an O secretor; however, it wasn’t with great confidence that this evidence was accurate. As a result Chaput asks the analyst to
“do any further testing of any other enzymes and she said she would attempt to do that” -Weinberg, p58.
I thought this was very interesting because I thought that when a test was done, all of the enzymes would be extracted. In addition, I was wondering what Chaput meant by enzymes being tested or how a PGM test was done. After doing research on PGM testing (seen in the link below), I found out that they conduct this experiment by testing the enzymes found in the red cell membrane. These are PGM’s or genetic markers are protein enzymes that are found throughout the body. In the discovery these PGM’s, there were also three phenotypes which correlated to two alleles allowing for a more highly specific genetic marker in crime scene investigations. Overall, I thought it was very interesting to see and learn of another form of forensic biotechnology used through the help of DNA. DNA really is the platform for new techniques to arise.
One of the biggest contributions to both DNA and Chapter 3 of Pointing From the Grave is Gregor Mendel’s work with pea plants. Through his studies Mendel was able to learn more about how offspring inherent different genes from their parents, and about the dominance and recessiveness of different genes. The most fascinating part of Mendel’s story in my opinion is that he did not receive any response or any recognition when he presented his discoveries. It took the dawn of a new century for Mendel’s work to be understood for its greatness. This chapter got me thinking a lot about Mendel and I wanted to learn more about his advancement of genetics. Attached below is a Ted Talk that I think you guys may enjoy. After watching this video I understood Mendel’s work in a whole new light, and definitely a more visual light. Check it out!
Something new I learned this chapter was the working relationship between Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins. When I first learned the story of Rosalind Franklin, in high school, I did not know she had partner with her when she discovered the shape of DNA. Their relationship was described as:
“They were less a team than a push-me-pull-you, to the extent that Franklin refused to show Wilkins her work out of irritation at being treated as a subordinate…Wilkins believed that Franklin had been hired as his technical assistant” (Weinberg 37)
This passage puts into perspective the discrimination of women in the workplace, especially in science. I believe this hindered them from discovering the structure of DNA before Watson and Crick. If there was not as much competition and more team work, they could have made greater discoveries, and explored their hunches in more depth. It’s a shame how women were treated in science, and how some are still treated now.
“Miraculously, everything then fell into shape. Crick saw it and no matter how hard he tried, could not come up with a reason why it should not be the solution.
‘From the start we hoped for some chemical revelation that would lead to the correct structure,’ Waston wrote. ‘But we never anticipated that the answer would come so suddenly in one swoop and with such finality.
It was a true Eureka moment.” -Weinberg, pg 38-39
This section grabbed my attention immediately. After reading Johnson’s book, we learned that true ‘Eureka moments’ are much rarer than they’re made out to be. Watson and Crick are portrayed as almost overconfident in their intelligence and their abilities; it’s understandable that Watson wanted it to seem as though the answer to their DNA problem came to them so quickly.
But if we look at the rest of the chapter, we can see that their discovery wasn’t really a Eureka moment after all. Like many good ideas, it was a matter of finding and combining all the right pieces, such as the work of their colleagues before them. It was in part because of a hunch that Watson and Crick had, the idea that DNA was likely a helix structure.
The revelation that DNA is a double helix did not come to Watson and Crick all at once; it was a problem that both of them thought about for a long time, gathering bits and pieces of information that would eventually come together and lead them to the answer.
Helena’s research on DNA probes reminded me of a technique I learned about in synthetic biology that is widely used today in science. Since these DNA probes were synthetic short single-stranded chains of DNA, they were able to adhesively attached to its complementary strand in a mixture of media. To bring it to the next step, is finding out the sequence needed in order to make that synthetic strand of DNA. Helena’s group may have had one specific sequence of interest but what if a research wanted to know the sequence of an entire genome?
Honestly, how this process works doesn’t make much sense but for researchers, it has been an amazing tool. One technique is called Shotgun Sequencing. Basically, in short terms, you “blow up” the genome into smaller fragments and a computer system puts it back together by looking for overlapping sequences. This technique was proven to be more efficient with both time and cost of the process. The previous type of sequencing took a very long time and cost a large amount of resources. However, if I remember correctly, whole genome shotgunning sequencing is not as accurate. Since you are breaking up the whole genome and putting it back together in one piece rather than piece by piece, if there is a problem with one section, theres no way of telling what section went wrong.
There’s a documentary called “The Race for the Double Helix” which we watched in my biology class last year. This was an interesting movie because it highlighted how much work Franklin did to help Watson and Crick and how she got almost no recognition because she was a woman. They used all her ideas and passed them off as their own. It’s really interesting to look at the scientific world and how competitive it is. This race was not only based on learning information, it was also based on trying to get ahead of other scientists. This is something to consider when looking at research done by scientists.
In the book, Weinberg writes about how Helena had an interest in science, more specifically biotech, at a young age. With all her knowledge about the field, one would think that it would help her in her case, but it did not. Clearly a traumatic experience takes a toll on our mental state, but it seemed that prior to her attack, Helena would have been capable of using her knowledge and independence for her own good. Although it is a terrible thing, it is interesting to see how trauma effects our mental state. Helena, knowing what she knew about biotech, took a shower after the incident, which removed the DNA of her attacker. When a human experiences something traumatic, they react in survival type way rather then taking into consideration a more suitable action, why does this happen? Helena responded to her attack by taking a shower, but she should’ve known that it would remove the attacker’s DNA. What happens to our brain in “survival” mode that makes us overlook other options that could be more beneficial?
One thing that struck me while I was reading this particular chapter was how many scientists and people contributed to uncovering much of the mystery of DNA. I firmly believe that without any one of these intellectuals, we would not have the knowledge on DNA that we have today. Although never given the proper credit while he was alive, Gregor Mendel set the stage for future thinkers to pursue a study on DNA. Without his extensive work with plants, would Johann Friedrich Miescher have been able to discover that chromosomes in each cell nucleus were made up of more than just protein? Each geneticist building off the work of another through the years ultimately allowed Francis Crick to head the charge in uncovering the main mysteries of DNA. DNA that could one day help rightfully charge criminals like the one that broke into Helena’s house. The challenging concept that developed into DNA was a collective creative process, that although took decades to answer, was unearthed by many intelligent minds. Referring to what we discussed in class, bouncing ideas off of each other can in fact provide a better, and more complete, answer to a question or concept.
” ‘From the start we hoped for some chemical revelation that would lead to the correct structure’, Watson wrote. ‘But we never anticipated that the answer would come so suddenly in one swoop and with such finality’. It was a true Eureka moment” (Weinberg 38-39).
I think that this quote, about Watson and Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA, illustrates Steven Johnson’s point about slow hunches being the basis of all good ideas. There actually aren’t generally such things as “eureka” moments. True, it seemed as if Watson just miraculously stumbled upon the answer to DNA’s structure, but in reality his process was different. For one, he collaborated the whole time with Crick, and so his ideas were inevitably influenced by and checked by someone else.
For another thing, Watson and Crick were basically at a stumped point in their research when they went and saw Rosalin Franklin’s work of X-ray photographs of DNA. Weinberg even says that with “more earnest manipulation of their models” (Weinberg 38), they started working harder to find the solution. This basically means that competition was a driving point to them making their discovery.
Finally, the two scientists were trying the whole time to answer one question: what was the structure of DNA? They were searching for this specific answer. They had exhausted basically all other possibilities and answers when they made the discovery. From this, one could argue that they just naturally arrived at the answer from their slow hunch.
“It explained so much: why sibling humans can differ in hair and eye color, for example, why brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child, but not the other way around; it is the way individualism is preserved.”
Brother Gregor Mendel’s discovery was not put into consideration that he got depressed and did not want to know more about science. However, his discovery was not only crucial for plant pees, but for human characteristics as well. My siblings and I are always asked why don’t we look alike, it is a common question, and he brought out the answer. However, it was not taken into consideration. In our history, it is kind of common that we feel like some discoveries are not as important. Just like in the chapter they also said that the world was not ready to know what the DNA was like. Nevertheless, they could have known if they had listened. It just took them a bit more time to accept the discovery. Brother Mendel made a great discovery using pees that it is not only helpful for plants, but for us as well.
“Every long lost dream led me to where you are/Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars/Pointing me on my way into your loving arms/This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road/That led me straight to you”
-Rascal Flatts, “Broken Road”
“You make me thank god for every mistake I ever made,/Because each one led me down the path that brought me to you.”
-Pablo Neruda, “Just knowing”
While reading this Chapter, I thought of all of the events that had to occur exactly the way they did for life as we know it today to exist. For instance, Brother Gregor Mendell had to be born to peasant farmers to know about planting. If he had not known about gardening, he would not have invested time in manipulating the “genes” (as they were eventually known by thanks to his research) of pea plants. Without Mendell’s first experiments with hereditary, Watson would not have “become polarized toward finding out the secret of the gene.” (Weinberg, 35) And if Watson had not gone to the specific seminar in Naples were he heard Maurice Wilkins speak, he would not have become “suddenly…excited about chemistry.” (Weinberg, 35). Without Watson’s (and Crick’s) chemical, genetic, and biologic pursuits, DNA and all of its benefits would not be around in the same form today.
It’s fascinating all of the things that had to fall into just the right time and place in order to happen.
In Chapter 3, Weinberg brings up multiple examples of society rejecting scientific developments. Helena, Gregor Mendel, and Oscar Avery all encountered difficulty telling the world what they had discovered. Mendel was “revered and reviled”, with his discoveries polarizing the scientific community. Avery was misinterpreted, and thought that rather than evidence that DNA contains the material for human life it was merely a step in the process. Did Helena face the same stubborn community that silenced many of the great minds that came before her? In my memory, the world of the late 20th and early 21st century has accepted many scientific discoveries (like Hawking’s black hole theory) almost too easily. For example, recently evidence of gravitational waves was discovered by scientists at the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. Every one I talked to accepted that evidence without question, and either were excited and supportive or indifferent. However, no one opposed that discovery or said “that can’t be!” It seems that, in our modern era, people are more accepting and supportive of scientific ideas. This could be for many reasons; Rapid information transfer in the Internet Era could be to blame, or the presence of science in the media. Maybe this could even be because the world has learned from the mistaken rejections of Mendel’s philosophy in the past, and has grown to be a better place because of it.
One part of forensic science that has always interested me the most is fingerprinting and fingerprint lifting. Fingerprints are so intriguing because no one’s fingerprints are the same. Fingerprints are kind of like our own little id cards, that can leave a trail of where we were and what we did. After reading Chapter 2 of Pointing From the Grave, I spent a lot of time thinking about how detectives lift fingerprints. We have seen this process in our favorite crime shows and movies, but most of us don’t know the specifics of how its done. Check out the article I have linked below. It talks about the materials needed and steps to fingerprinting. It’s pretty cool take a look!
Annie Brown’s daughter, Isabel, was a newborn baby when the doctor told her parents she was at a high risk for cystic fibrosis. Both mom and dad were grateful to be warned of her potential risk for disease, but then quickly began to question how the doctor even had that information about their daughter. The doctor informed them that all babies in the U.S are screened for genetic diseases. This obviously raises many ethical issues and whether or not is an invasion of privacy to test newborns without the parents knowledge. Personally, I would not mind having my child tested without my knowledge because the information is for medical research and purposes. However, a majority of people do not agree with the testing and therefore should be informed.
She knew her future lay in science, and already she was turning her attention to DNA, the molecule that was reorienting the worlds of biology and chemistry, smashing preconceptions, and opening vistas that spread from pre-birth to eternal life. – Weinberg, page 14
Helena in the book already knew she wanted to be a scientist. She knew a lot about how biology and technology were the future in our society. It is pretty shocking how she had so much knowledge and when it could help her life to solve her case, she could not use it. It is kind of ironic how much effort she put to it her life studying it and then not being able to use in such an important event in her life. I guess that it would also be hard for her to study it later, knowing how she could have helped herself. Nevertheless, I cannot state that as a fact, but an assumption of how I would feel.
I started this journey with only the vaguest idea of what DNA is and does, and it is in large part thanks to Matt Ridley’s erudite and informative Genome that I made it out of the starting gates – page, vii
This quote really caught my attention because what DNA has enabled us to do is massive. We have solved many mysteries by understanding the DNA. Not only crimes, but it helped us solve health mysteries. It has given us an idea of what each face could look like and not only that, but how we could be like personality wise. Of course, one of the greatest things it has done is being able to solve mysteries. If it were not for that a lot of criminals would still be out in the loose and be a danger to society.
Jennifer Jomes studied the pictures for about a minute, then picked out the one numbered 5. “If i had to pick one, it would be this one,” she said, pointing to a photograph of Frediani…”This is spooky, he really looks like the guy.” Her roommate, Catherine Scott, again thought that photo 5 looked like the man from the nose area up, but she also said she couldn’t be positive. Her sister, Lyssa, wasn’t sure it was any of the men in the photographs. Roseanne Melia thought that number 5 was the closest. (Weinberg 26)
In every crime show on television there are photo id scenes or the classic suspect lineup. In this situation several women thought they could identify #5 as the rapist, but when asked if they were positive they could not confirm. So what do police do in a situation when they know the Frediani is most likely the culprit but lack proof? Perhaps this question is what lead scientists to search for another way to convict a suspect, DNA profiling. Because the memories from assaults can be blurred from trauma it is easy to understand how none of the women could be 100% sure that #5 was their rapist, maybe DNA will serve a purpose in this investigation and assist detectives in convicting Frediani.
When Helena mentions she wants to be the bridge or connection between those that work in suits, which is referencing those working in the law field with people that work in her science based field. I wondered if she meant she would want to use her knowledge in science to improve the way law works, or did she mean she wants to use the ideas used in the field of law to improve her knowledge in her job field. From this speculation I realize that many different ideas can contribute to both fields i.e DNA. Since this discovery, the world of forensics was discovered, I wonder if any more connections between the two can help revolutionize ideas used in either field.
I thought it was interesting how the lawyers made a big deal about what the race of the rapist was. They wanted Helena to be sure and narrow down what her thoughts on his race were, even though there is no way to correctly identify which race she could of been referring to. Especially because it was dark in the room when the even occurred.
This article was very interesting to me and is having the same discussion about how race ties in with DNA and vice versa. Hopefully DNA will help with the racial problems in our country by showing that everyone’s DNA is not so different.
“‘You would concede…that there are hundreds of thousands of males in California with Mr. Frediani’s height and build?'”-page 11
One greatly under-appreciated aspect of our modern society is the widespread use of DNA mapping that Weinberg talks about in the prologue. One can only imagine how many people were incarcerated because they looked like someone who committed a crime, or because the victim’s foggy memories convinced them that the persons accused of harming them must be the ones who actually performed the crime. Using appearances and the accounts of individuals is an extremely inaccurate and tough method of identifying guilty parties, and its difficulty is part of the reason law is such an acclaimed profession. DNA mapping is a great advancement of forensic science, and it can only lead to less people being unjustly jailed and accused of crime.
“If we wanted to, we could predict our life expectancy before birth, our intellectual capacity, hair color, or even our ability to run a marathon.” (Weinberg xi)
Clearly, we have the technology to decipher our own complex DNA, but yet in most cases we don’t. Is this because we are afraid of what the results may hold? I feel like most people wouldn’t want to know what the future has in store for them. But, shouldn’t we at least have a say in the matter? Most people’s parents make that decision for them before they are even born. But after that, some people probably would want to know the breakdown of their genes and see what that actually means in terms of how it effects the course of their lives. Wouldn’t people want to know if they were more susceptible to some diseases and immune to others? This could potentially influence the way they live their lives both negatively and positively.
“She knew her future lay in science, and already she was turning her attention to DNA, the molecule that was reorienting the worlds of biology and chemistry, smashing preconceptions, and opening vistas that spread from pre-birth to eternal life” -Weinberg, p14
I found it extremely interesting that Helena devoted her life to studying DNA and that it seems at this point in Weinberg’s book, that DNA could be the missing link to solving her case. Helena’s work with DNA could potentially help the police find her attacker. What scientists have discovered about DNA, and all the different things that they can do with it in this day and age is an amazing biological advancement. At this point in the book, I wondered whether or not DNA will help solve this case, and also if Helena would be one of the people that discovered the link between DNA and her attacker. I am interested to keep reading to see if Helena figures out a method to find her attacker even before the police do. This insight on DNA’s link to criminology is new to me and allowed me to view these types of cases in a new light.
“She keeps looking, but she cannot even recognize the eyes, not in the whole face. But maybe she has seen him before?” – Weinberg, p5
This quote really stuck out to me and clearly showed me how science can make evidence so much more concrete. As soon as I read it I questioned how effective it can be for the court to lay such a heavy emphasis on the victims visual idea and memory of the physical appearance of his or her attacker. After reading some more of the book it is clear that DNA, one of the greatest biotechnological advancements, can solve a case in a much easier way. Therefore it seems to me that it would be foolish to rely solely on someone’s perception when science is much more effective. In other words, I think it is hard for a person who has been through a traumatic event to recall something that is so negatively engraved in their minds, especially if it was a long time ago. Science can lead a case such as Helena Greenwood’s to being solved much more concretely than perception can. The power of DNA has made a large impact on the outcome of such cases. Before I read this chapter I had never thought about how big of an impact DNA and science vs. a persons perception had on criminal investigations.
DNA can be a very helpful thing to police in trying to find the true suspect of a crime, but if there is nothing to go on, it can almost be impossible. Even with all the correlation with the attacks that occurred around the area of the community, there was not enough evidence to get a viable suspect. Detective Chaput was not even aware of the similar attacks when the Greenwood case came to him. What is interesting to me is that there seems to only be a criminal database of fingerprints, and that leads me to wonder why when Paul was arrested, why he was not fingerprinted. Going with what his former friends said about him, and the arrest and previous events, how could they not have enough to get even some DNA?
She keeps looking, but she cannot even recognize the eyes, not in the whole face. But maybe she has seen him before? Or is this just a trick of the brain, dating an instant memory like a tea-stained piece of parchment?- Weinberg (5).
The scene when Helena is asked if she has ever seen Frediani before in court was a powerful moment thus far in this book. The attacker mentioned in these cases has always had part of his face covered, and although the women were able to identify Frediani as having a similar build and eyes, it is spotty to pencil in Frediani as guilty based off eye-witness reports. I feel like this particular quote could provide an argument for how someone who has been through such a horrible experience could have an almost mental breakdown when trying to pick an assailant in court, or in a lineup. Im not trying to say that the testimonies of these women are flat-out wrong, as they know what they have seen, but why leave anything to an eyewitness or even a trick of the brain. DNA testing from the semen and sweat of the attacker would properly showcase the truth of who broke into Helena’s house that night.
“Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide.”- The Innocence Project
Marvin Anderson is unfortunately one of many to wrongfully accused of committing a crime due to lack of DNA testing. On July 19, 1982, Anderson was questioned by police on a rape and was innocent so believed he had nothing to lose by answering. However, despite his alibi, Anderson was convicted of rape, abduction, sodomy and robbery, largely on the basis of this eyewitness misidentification, and was sentenced to 210 years. Finally after 15 years in prison, new DNA evidence proved his innocence and he was released. Had DNA testing been present, Anderson would not have lost an entire 15 years of his life. Even today there could be people in prison wrongfully accused due to a lack of technology.
In todays forensic based world, DNA lies of great importance in finding rapists, murders etc. In chapter one, the prosecution seems to be riding on the notion that Helena will be able to identify her attacker whenever she saw him. However, she can only give broad details about his appearance including his height, build and skin color. There are many men with similar builds, ultimately leaving Helena to pick out her attacker like a needle in a haystack. What I had thought about this is what if Helena had relied on the use of his DNA from when he ejaculated on her face and pillow, this case would have been non-existent because the evidence they would have gathered would have been factual.
“This is a story about a murder and a molecule. It is both the history of a science, overlaid with human drama, and a human tragedy inextricably entwined with science” (Weinberg xi)
In the opening of Pointing from the Grave, we are introduced to the world of DNA. We know it will play a large factor because of the large emphasis placed on its usefulness and its abilities. I am excited to see how the role of DNA plays into our every day lives, and ultimately, how DNA solves a murder.
In Chapter 1 of Pointing From the Grave the only thing I kept thinking to myself was why didn’t they test the semen stains on Helena’s pillowcase. I am sure the technology now is a lot more useful and developed than the technology during the time of Helena’s assault, but it still would have been more concrete evidence than a simple description of the intruder’s looks. This wonder led me to look up how Semen tests are conducted, and what they tell us about the person who left them. Check out this site I found. It talks about the different types of test that can be run on semen samples, and about the biological information that semen imparts on us. The link is below!
After reading Chapter 1 of Pointing From the Grave, I found it very interesting and relatable to various other science courses I took. In the prologue it mentioned how DNA was first discovered and used to understand the sequencing of the genome and related to genetic makeup of humans. In my Genetics, Synthetic Biology, and Cancer Biology courses we discussed the ways in which DNA was analyzed based on RFLP (Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism Technique) analysis which allowed researchers to understand the matches in the breaks in DNA. This is described in the link below in which this techniques uses restriction enzymes to see the cuts in DNA and match the fragments to those of other pieces of DNA. It was interesting to see how DNA, the basic building block for genes, is able to be used in such a way that includes intense analysis of sequences to match the sequences of interest in a case like the one described in this chapter. If foreign DNA was detected in Helena’s saliva samples, from the bodily fluids of the assailant, it will be interesting to see how RFLP could be used to match the DNA to that of the assailant.
I am enjoying “Pointing from the Grave” thus far. Murder books and shows have always intrigued me. After reading the first chapter, I was impressed with the way it was written. Weinberg makes the story increasingly interesting by altering the chapter from present scenario to flashback. Readers are able to better understand what exactly happened the day of the incident as well as get an inside look at what is now going on inside of the courtroom. This chapter provides readers with the beginnings of the background information of the case. I am excited and curious to know how it is going to build up.
According to the innocence project more then 25% of suspects are proven to be innocent once DNA results are returned to police. Since the discovery of how to use DNA to identify a certain person 337 people have been exonerated from crimes they did not commit. Clearly the use of DNA in forensic science is a crucial development in our justice system and assists prosecutors in convicting the right criminal. In the case of Helena Greenwood DNA would have been an easy way to discover if Mr. Frediani was in fact her rapist or if he had been wrongly accused. The evolution of science can be applied to our justice system and help us improve the decisions that come from it.
“Without noise, evolution would stagnate, an endless series of perfect copies, incapable of change. But because DNA is susceptible to error– whether mutations in the code itself or transcription mistakes during replication– natural selection has a constant source of new possibilities to test…Error is what made humans possible in the first place” -Johnson 142
Darwin’s theory about where these variations that produced the innovations of life came forms that when a particular organ or limb was heavily used in the lifetime of an animal, it released more “gemmules” that shaped the next generation of its species (Johnson 143). As was later proved by genetics, this theory was wrong.So, as Johnson also says, Darwin erred in trying to understand error (and its successes).
This leads to the idea of wondering why Darwin might have failed at understanding completely his discoveries. He seemed to have made the discovery of natural selection in the first place from the combination of his own observations and the adjacent possible. Did he need to “tap into” the adjacent possible once again to understand the whys behind evolution? Was he trying too hard to independently force another “eureka” moment upon himself? Or maybe he simply needed more time to contemplate any slow hunches about the reason behind his observation, constantly keeping them in the back of his mind while focusing on some other problem. Maybe, if he had “slept on the problem” like other scientists who studied single topics for years at a time, he might have come up with a solution.
But looking at Darwin’s hypothesis about the reason behind the selective traits, and comparing it to the quote above, one can say that the only possible way for Darwin to come up with an idea would have been to constantly try different ideas, revising them when they were in error. Darwin actually was acting like DNA when he subjected himself to an unanswered problem (stressed environment) and attempted to answer it.
A connection I found from reading chapter 1 of “Where Do Good Ideas Come From” was the statement “we take the ideas we’ve inherited or that we’ve stumbled across, and we jigger them together into one new shape” to the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. For the most part, people only know Watson and Crick as the people accountable for discovering the helical structure of DNA. However, after learning about so many scientist whom provided Watson and Crick the tools to piece together the puzzle, they were truly the very last piece that took the ideas of all the previous scientist. Without scientist such as Chargraff, Rosalind Franklin, Levene, etc. Watson and Crick wouldn’t of known that A and T match together, or that DNA was a helical structure without Rosalind’s x-ray diffraction picture of DNA, or the simple fact that there is a sugar attached to the nucleic acid. Before I learned about these previous scientist and their experiments in depth, I only gave Watson and Crick credit for the discovery of the structure, but I quickly learned there was so much more put into discovering the structure than I had previously known.