The aim of the talk was to inform and update RSC and IFST members in NI on DNA topics as part of the annual lecture series run by RSC local section and Michael described the structure of DNA, the PCR reaction and illustrated its use in forensic DNA profiling. The case was one of the first to use DNA profiling in a criminal investigation and although the murderer of two teenage schoolgirls was eventually tracked down, the first prime suspect in the case was shown to be innocent by DNA profiling. Michael also described an intelligence led DNA screen from his time at Forensic Science Northern Ireland that led to the conviction of Arthur Murray for the manslaughter of Patrick McGrath. The DNA work of James Walker, Team Leader in Specialised Forensic DNA at LGC, on the identification of World War One remains from the battle of Fromelles also attracted keen interest from the audience of over 40 members of the Royal Society of Chemistry Local Section & Analytical Division, N.I. Region.
Michael went on to discuss real-time PCR in the detection of horse meat and why horse meat wasn’t detected in the food chain until the Food Safety Authority of Ireland began its investigations in late 2012. Extensive examples of other food crime, the scientific means of its detection and the difficulties of quantification in mixtures of species followed. Examples of referee analysis involving DNA included the detection of illegal GMO rice in imported food and confirmation of Public Analysts findings in the official surveys for horse meat and pig in beef products.
Finally, looking to the future, Michael discussed his involvement in the Defra/DH Elliott Review into the integrity of the food chain, ‘barcode of life’ approaches to identification of the ‘unknown unknowns’ and LGC’s new crime scene DNA instrument, paraDNA, a tool that enables us to establish very early on whether human DNA is present in crime stains.
Slides of Michael’s presentation will soon be available on the Government Chemist website.