Today’s forensic medicine makes solving crimes look easy. According to movies, television shows, and many books, all you need is to take a swab of some icky stuff, do something science-y with it, and a mystery gets solved.
There are flaws in simplifying DNA science through speedy storytelling. Sure, a narrative moves much faster but it also leads to misconceptions about the process. We assume so many things because of it. The top three assumptions about DNA made by audiences are:
- It’s an easy science
- It’s available everywhere
- It’s been around forever
Firstly, the process is still relatively new. Secondly, it’s so new (and expensive) that not every country has it. Not even every country that relies on this science has a major city that can run these types of tests. There is a third and more important element to consider. The process of gathering evidence and then processing it.
Sure, sensitive machines do the heavy microscopic lifting but samples can get contaminated easily by other cells before the tests even begin, thereby corrupting samples and rendering them totally useless. Television has us believing that swabbing something gets exactly what’s needed. But cells are everywhere. They are on the ground, on walls, in the air, everywhere, since forever. A sample of blood taken from a kitchen floor is already corrupted by the cells that existed there before the blood was deposited on top of it. It contains the cells of those who use the kitchen, what is cooked or eaten in it, any pets that live inside the home, and bacteria. Even the swab itself can be a source of contamination. And the longer the blood was exposed to the atmosphere, the more likely other cells are to become part of the sample’s mix.
Discriminating one cell from another is the real job here. It’s like looking for the right cell in a cell stack. It’s not easy. Everyone in the chain must do their job right to ensure a successful, accurate, and usable outcome.
And then there’s that wonderful moment in history when DNA science was introduced into a law court for the first time. It was suggested that each human being had a unique set of identifiers within their DNA code, much like the print patterns on the tips of their fingers. The test was highly accurate and irrefutable. It was the beginning of a change in Law and the way investigations were conducted.
But there was also a magical grey area that existed for a time while this change took place. It meant that anyone who wanted to commit a crime only had a short time to get it done. If left too long, a criminal could wind up in jail, found guilty by what had been previously invisible evidence.
This is where my writing goes.
I authored a novel where one criminal committed a heinous crime just before the process of DNA sequencing and matching became an approved science. A modern researcher comes across some old, DNA evidence. It was found on the surface of a love letter and threatens to reveal a long-hidden truth. It’s a blackmail-by-DNA story. (My story isn’t solely DNA-speak. It’s more situational and time-speak than DNA).
This transitional period and DNA’s implementation into investigations intrigues me. It makes me wonder how many real-life criminals are out there just waiting for a knock to come on their door for some crime they committed just prior to the acceptance of DNA science.
SEETHINGS reads as though it’s a true murder story. Its killer could be your neighbour or the person sitting opposite you in a coffee shop. The only way to be sure is to take a sample of their genetic fingerprint to a lab, and then run it through an unsolved crime database.
Now here’s a twist to that idea: What if your own DNA profile was matched to that of an unsolved murder? That’d shock you, right? You’d deny committing the offence, of course you would, because you didn’t do it. Like my protagonist, you’re a decent, kind person. It’s impossible to be linked to any crime, much less murder.
Perhaps someone set you up? That’s the most logical answer of all, right?
There’s an answer provided in the pages of SEETHINGS.
Five women’s bodies are discovered after the nights of thunderstorms. Their spouses are suspected of the crimes, but it becomes clear that someone else is responsible. There’s no blood and few clues. A storm photographer specialising in taking lightning pictures may be the only witness.
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