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Biotech Science

Scientists Learn To Fabricate DNA Evidence 256

Posted by kdawson
from the tossing-a-bag-of-maryjane-in-the-back-seat dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times reports that it is possible to fabricate blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor, and even to construct a sample of DNA to match someone's profile without obtaining any tissue from that person — if you have access to their DNA profile in a database. This undermines the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases. 'You can just engineer a crime scene,' said Dan Frumkin, lead author of the paper. 'Any biology undergraduate could perform this.' The scientists fabricated DNA samples in two ways. One requires a real, if tiny, DNA sample, perhaps from a strand of hair or a drinking cup. They amplified the tiny sample into a large quantity of DNA using a standard technique called whole genome amplification. The other technique relies on DNA profiles, stored in law enforcement databases as a series of numbers and letters corresponding to variations at 13 spots in a person's genome. The scientists cloned tiny DNA snippets representing the common variants at each spot, creating a library of such snippets. To prepare a phony DNA sample matching any profile, they just mixed the proper snippets together. Tania Simoncelli, science adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union, says the findings were worrisome. 'DNA is a lot easier to plant at a crime scene than fingerprints,' says Simoncelli. 'We're creating a criminal justice system that is increasingly relying on this technology.'"
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Scientists Learn To Fabricate DNA Evidence

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  • by tacarat (696339) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @02:43AM (#29102183) Journal
    What sort of budget do they have to have to do this to you? How much will that go down in the next 5, 10 and 20 years? Hmm...
  • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @02:48AM (#29102197)
    Yuppers, reading that just spoiled my afternoon. Thanks Slashdot for letting me know YET AGAIN that the PTB (Powers That Be) have yet again let me down and failed to stand/live up to my expectations.

    Well, fuck.

    Totally agree. Well, fuck.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @03:01AM (#29102263)
    Did you fuck up an investigation? Need to get some niggers or latinos put away for giving you shit? Found your best friend banging your wife and you want to teach him a lession?

    Order your DNA CYA kit today!

    Your DNA CYA kit will contain all the necessary "stuff" to implicate your mark!

    With the DNA CYA kit, you'll be busting everyone that's given you shit. What does that get you? Well dumb ass, with the DNA CYA kit, you'll become the "expert" in gathering DNA evidence in your precinct! Soon you won't be sitting in some skanky smelling patrol car, instead you'll be sitting behind the desk looking to become the next chief!

    Order your DNA CYA kit today or your "good buddy" will become the next chief!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @03:01AM (#29102267)

    As a biochemistry grad student, I'd figure I'd need a month or so and could do it for less than $10,000 in materials not including a bit of a practice/training.

    Materials - it costs about $0.15/base for small DNA strands, or $1/base for longer (>150 base) if you order from one of many companies. Enzymes run ~$100/enzyme good for about 50 reactions. You'd need about 5 or 6 critical enzymes. The PCR machine could be had for $500, or you could go old school with water baths and a timer. I bet I could get decent results with about $5-10,000 (not including labor, which would take a bit of time).

    Once you've created a library of the 'snippets' it would be almost trivial to clone up large mixed populations with the right signatures. (Trivial meaning less than a week, and a few hundred dollars).

    As for price going down in the future - VERY fast. The tools to make/reshape DNA are still a bit arcane but have recently become both flexible and robust. There is an entire sector of private companies devoted to making DNA encoding & manipulation easier, faster and cheaper. Ordering 10,000-base strand now costs $1/base, but I would bet it pushes $0.10 within 5 years. Building it up from smaller (~100-bases) sequences is currently a bit of an art, but is not 'hard'. I would bet that that process will become much less arcane and therefore much more automated/programmable within the next 10 years to make that a matter of days of robot incubation rather than a month of grad-student labor.

  • Damn, I thought you were joking. Then I read TFA and saw that you were right. Dude - you're psychic!
  • by SeaFox (739806) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @03:46AM (#29102471)

    1) Pass "homeland security" type law requiring people to register and submit DNA for national database.

    2) Keep an eye out for political dissidents.

    3) When they appear, have covert government agents commit crimes and plant "teh incontrovertible DNS evidence" of the dissident at the scene.

    4) Dissident is taken out of the picture in a way that looks completely legitimate.

    5) Bonus: Add extra brutality to their crimes to make the dissident (and by extension any of their ideas) less attractive to anyone else.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @03:46AM (#29102473)

    I was about to say that. If you want to frame someone, don't try to make sure you have an alibi while he doesn't. Collect his cigarette stubs, go through his comb and collect his hair, his chewing gums, his used condoms...

    If you're a rapist, a trash bin next to a sleazy motel can be your getouttajail card.

    All because we take DNA evidence as gospel. It's impossible to fail. Your DNA was there, so you were there. I don't even want to know how many innocent people are held behind bars (or worse, have been executed) based on planted DNA evidence.

  • by SerpentMage (13390) <> on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @04:15AM (#29102661)

    Actually it is worse than that!

    Here is why...

    With a fingerprint we have always had doubt because it could be planted.

    But with technology and DNA we are 100% sure! Well you get the idea, right? We trust technology so much that common sense goes out the window and hence if the beeping gadget on the floor says true, well then it must be true!

    This has always worried me...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @04:48AM (#29102849)

    The problem for this would be getting access to a database with the info, so it would probably be easier to punch the person in the nose to get a blood sample and duplicate the DNA from that.

    No not really. There are enough private investigators you can hire, with ties to law enforcement. For exmaple, there are a few investigators around here that used to work for various secret agencies. They now cater to large companies. They use their still exiting ties to investigate their targets if their client is paying enough.

    The bigger and more often used DNA databases get, the easier it is going to be to access them. How hard is it to get the car owner from a license plate?

  • by Kokuyo (549451) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @05:46AM (#29103109) Journal

    The important question is, how many innocents have been framed?

    I've always been sceptical about DNA proof. Not because I knew that samples could be manipulated like this but the unwavering belief that DNA traces at a crime sceen were indicative of involvement.

    Take this example: A man kills a woman. You happen upon the scene just as the murderer has left. The victim is in her death throes. Now I don't know about you people, but my first instinct would be to try and help. To do so, I'd have to get close and touch her. Now imagine her clawing at me. She is dying, after all.

    Now police finds you with a dead woman, your DNA under her fingernails, the knife used is lying mere feet away from you without any fingerprints or DNA traces.

    How do you talk your way out of this one? Nobody could prove that you were the murderer, but there are some damning clues there, wouldn't you say? That's what scares me about 'foolproof' CSI methods. For each one I could think of a scenario that would incriminate the wrong person. What I missed with DNA was a certain scepticism. People went "His DNA was on her? Well, he must be guilty then..."

  • Re:I guess (Score:4, Interesting)

    by triplepoint217 (876727) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @08:19AM (#29103981)

    Actually, a well written CSI episode on this could be rather valuable for public education. If they made the important ramifications clear: DNA evidence can still exonerate, DNA evidence is still useful but you should consider that it has been planted, especially if it conflicts with other evidence, and therefore take it with a grain of a salt, and there are probably other ones, IANAFS (I Am Not A Forensic Scientist).

  • by RDW (41497) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @08:48AM (#29104239)

    'Everything is just a matter of time. After all Watson, Crick, Wilkins and Franklin got, or should of gotten, Nobel prizes for extracting DNA. Now you can do that at home.'

    Not quite! DNA was a 19th century discovery: []

    '"Who discovered DNA ?" "Watson and Crick, of course !" most students will answer. However, DNA was isolated, analyzed and recognized as a unique macromolecule in 1869 by Friedrich Miescher, an eminent physiological chemist from Basel, Switzerland.'

    The Nobel prize, of course, was for the discovery of the _structure_ of DNA. Speaking of Watson, we can now frame him for any crime using his publicly available complete genome sequence: []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @09:02AM (#29104357)

    The problem is that DNA evidence has been showing problems for a while now. This is just the latest/greatest problem with it. It has been relied upon by law enforcement for a long time to "prove" something that law enforcement has known to not be true.

    Several states (Arizona for one) did searches against the FBI's national DNA database and found several "matches" from different people. By match I mean that those each of those different people could have been convicted in a trial where the original DNA was found and used at trial based on the, at that time, current standard to prove that the DNA was effectively unique to that individual.

    The FBI threatened to cut these states off from it's DNA database if they continued to look for these types of matches. The FBI then quietly "raised" the number of matching snippets required to be considered a definitive match. The article references 13 genomes, at one point only 7 or 9 was considered enough for a "guaranteed match".

  • by Architect_sasyr (938685) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @09:22AM (#29104585)
    Or in the factory that makes the detectors...

    Side Note: I wonder how hard it would be to insert underhanded or backdoor code into the software of these DNA analysis machines that, when matching with ~90% (or less) of your own DNA, they completely change the input in a predictable way. At least with fingerprints we can visually compare, how are we going to check DNA manually.
  • by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @09:46AM (#29104851)

    Thanks Slashdot for letting me know YET AGAIN that the PTB (Powers That Be) have yet again let me down and failed to stand/live up to my expectations.

    Whom are you talking about? Given advances in bioengineering this was inevitable, sooner or later.

    I've seen some awfully realistic-looking faked videos [] lately, too. Technology giveth, technology taketh away.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @10:13AM (#29105261) Homepage Journal

    All because we take DNA evidence as gospel. It's impossible to fail. Your DNA was there, so you were there. I don't even want to know how many innocent people are held behind bars (or worse, have been executed) based on planted DNA evidence.

    Whats worse is people being executed on other planted evidence. Disgraced former Illinois Governor George Ryan stopped the death penalty here when DNA proved that half of the men on death row were actually innocent.

    A sword cuts both ways.

  • by sumdumass (711423) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @11:17AM (#29106085) Journal

    I created a fictional story when in college in the 90's where the protagonist sought revenge on a cop by framing him with murder. This was around the time of the OJ trial and DNA was all over the TV because of the trial. The cliff notes version went something like this.

    The villian watched the officer and learned his personal habbits, then while on vacation, he broke into his home and stole hair from a comb/brush and sacked it into a plastic bag. He then waited for the flue season and rooted through the trash looking for used tissues and so on. On the night of the murder, he arranged to be driving on the cops patrol route and to get pulled over for a traffic violation near the end of his shift. He had the murder victim in the car so the cop would run her name and license like they normally do in my area. This is where the fun starts, the woman was taken to a remote location, shot and raped using a condom, then hair from the officer was placed around her with close attention to a few strands placed under the fingernails. A couple tissues were dropped close by and the car had tires of the same make and model as the cop's cruiser as well as spares that were switched off to match his personal car. This was an attempt to place both the cruiser and personal vehicle of the cops at the scene.

    That same night, while the officer was sleeping, drops of LSD was placed around the rim of his travel mug so he would have a half ass trip and act goofy. Boxes were made to discharge blank gunshot rounds placed near a curb at locations he frequented like the donuts shop and the stores he stopped in for coffee refills. He would hear the gun shots (precisely the same amount as the girl got shot with) then a new dose of the LSD on the coffee rim. After a couple of days of this, the women would most likely be reported missing, the protagonist would have reported an anonymous tip to a news agency that the body was at a certain place and when the cops found her dead, he would be arrested. Now here is where the plan falls into place, when they ask where she was because he was the last person seen with her (the traffic incident), the protagonist insists that the cop said she had a warrant for her arrest and took her with him. She was some random bar whore he picked up so he didn't care enough to worry about her being in jail.

    The detectives investigating the murder finds the hairs, the tissues, link the DNA to the cop, then take a look at his erratic behavior (caused by the LSD and the fake gunshots), find the tire tracks in the soft grass area close to where the body was dumped that match both the cruiser's and the cops personal vehicle's tires (more then one trip), and then arrest the cop with what pretty much seems like a slam dunk case because of the DNA evidence.

    OF course my story had a twist in the ending, the cop was sentenced to life in prison and killed by an inmate but the villain ended up turning to drugs and while high one night, mentions to someone who was talking ill about the officer in question what he had done. It turned out to be the girls younger brother who violently and painfully killed him with his own hands.

  • by LordKronos (470910) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 @03:30PM (#29110071) Homepage

    You sir, have never been in court have you.

    LOL. You couldn't have picked a better time to make that assumption, since I served on a jury less than a week ago.

    In our case it was pretty clear cut that the defendant was guilty based on the evidence. After hearing the testimony, I think we were all reasonably convinced. Yet, we took nearly an hour to come to a verdict. A number of the jurors wanted to look at the evidence, to see for themselves that the testimony seemed accurate, and whether what was testified about could reasonably be possible. We went over each element that defines the crime, to be sure we were in agreement that it was met. For one part, we discussed what the law meant exactly to see if the condition was satisfied. We asked the judge if she could provide further clarification on the law. In short, we did not just simply convict...we had a nice little discussion to see if we could come up with any way that reasonable doubt could be satisfied for any individual element.

    It was actually a very interesting experience. I went in not expecting others to be very analytical about the process. In fact, my expectations weren't too far off from what you suggest, but I was wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by the character of the people I served with.

    As far as everyone else involved, the prosecutor could not have been more professional, and the same for the handful of cops that testified in the case. At least based on my experience, your cynicism is highly misplaced.

I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it. - Joe Mullally, computer salesman