This fifth episode of the “Strengthening the Forensic Workforce” season in the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ’s) Just Science podcast series is an interview with Dr. Robin Cotton, Director of the Master of Science Program in Biomedical Forensic Sciences at Boston University School of Medicine, and Dr. Daniele Podini, a professor in the Department of Forensic Sciences at the George Washington University, who discuss forensic biology and DNA.
An introductory note indicates “forensic biology” can be described as “the application of biochemistry and cellular biology to solve forensic problems.” These techniques have evolved over the years with increasing sensitivity, are routinely used to identify individuals through DNA, and provide information on biological materials present at a crime scene. In this interview, Dr. Cotton and Dr. Podini discuss their career paths, the importance of criminal law and ethics training, and the value of student research that involves statistical analysis and interpretation. After noting that the field of forensic biology encompasses more than just DNA, the interviewer asks Dr. Cotton and Dr. Podini to define forensic biology. They agree that it is the application of the scientific knowledge of biology to a forensic matter or issue. The interview then turns to descriptions of their universities’ forensic biology and DNA programs, both of which have received accreditation from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). Both programs require a criminal law and or ethics course, which ensures that the work on a case in the lab is presented clearly and properly as relevant evidence in a legal proceeding. Another aspect of both curricula is the performance of statistical analysis of DNA evidence to show the frequency of a DNA profile and the chance of observing that profile if the suspect is included rather than if it is someone else in the population.