Flies solving true crime cases? New reality thanks to work at ASU insect forensic lab
GLENDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- There’s no doubt DNA has helped solve true crime cases left and right as technology improves, but what if you combine that with bugs?! A forensic lab at ASU’s west campus is one of the only places in the country studying this, and their work is helping identify victims and catch killers.
With the help of two professors and a team of students in the lab, these blow flies may be the tiniest crime solvers. “Forensic entomology is the use of insects and other arthropods, so creepy crawly things, in legal investigations,” said Dr. Lauren Weidner, a forensic entomologist.
When you think of legal investigations, chances are you’re not thinking of bugs. But Dr. Weidner is because she collects insects like blow flies from crime scenes and analyzes what stage of life they’re in based on the human remains they’re collected from. “So we work backwards and provide something called a time of colonization, and that helps give a minimum amount of time the remains have been there,” said Dr. Weidner.
That helps her pinpoint a more exact time of death for a victim. Then you bring in another component: DNA. “The main question I usually get asked is where has the maggot or larvae fed on?” said Dr. Jonathan Parrott, a forensic biologist.
Dr. Parrott takes DNA samples from the flies themselves. “We can extract profiles from the insects and compare them to CODIS, the DNA database, and see if we have the profile of a victim,” said Dr. Parrott.
It’s something Dr. Weidner said more law enforcement departments are starting to use. She has flies from several homicide cases around the country right now.
Her work even caught someone in a lie when she showed up for an autopsy. “The coroner had said to me, ‘Oh, well, the sister said to me she had dropped him off last night, and he was fine.’ And based on the size of those insects, they were at least three, four, five days along, so that would indicate to us he was not, in fact, alive last night,” said Dr. Weidner. “So, either corroborate or disprove an alibi.”
The two professors said their work in the southwest is part of a bigger picture in nationwide forensics. The flies are there to complete a story, sometimes solving a murder. “It’s like a puzzle, and you have to kind of answer these questions,” said Dr. Weidner. “Insects have no reason to lie.”
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