Medicolegal forensic entomology is the study of insects to aid with legal investigations (Gemmellaro, 2017). Insect evidence can be used to provide information such as the post-mortem interval (PMI). Blow flies are especially useful as these insects are primary colonizers, quickly arriving at a corpse (Malainey & Anderson, 2020). The age of blow flies found at a scene is used to calculate the PMI. Blow fly age can be estimated using weather data as these insects are poikilothermic (Okpara, 2018). Morphological analysis also can be used to estimate age; however, it is more difficult with pupal samples as the pupae exterior does not change significantly as development progresses (Bala & Sharma, 2016). Gene regulation analysis can estimate the age of samples. MicroRNAs are short noncoding RNA that regulate gene expression (Cannell et al., 2008). Here, we aim to catalog miRNAs expressed during the development of three forensically relevant blow fly species preserved in several storage conditions. Results demonstrated that various miRNA sequences were differentially expressed across pupation. Expression of miR92b increased during mid pupation, aga-miR-92b expression increased during early pupation, and bantam, miR957, and dana-bantam-RA expression increased during late pupation. These results suggest that microRNA can be used to estimate the age of pupal samples as miRNA expression changes throughout pupation. Future work could develop a statistical model to accurately determine age using miRNA expression patterns.
In this experiment, the viability of gunshot residue (GSR) was examined. This was done through the very rarely researched intersection of forensic firearms analysis and forensic entomology. The question being resolved is if GSR can reliably be detected from secondary evidence transfer of GSR laden carrion onto flies and their larvae. While it is know that secondary and tertiary GSR evidence can be transferred by way of handshakes, no such research has been conducted on flies or their pupae. Findings indicated varying levels of detection of GSR on evidence. GSR could reliably be detected on fly bodies and their legs, but not on their pupae. This research is significant as it provides previously unknown information on this line of research and provides the groundwork for further research on this topic in the future.
Forensic entomology is an important field of forensic science that utilizes insect evidence in criminal investigations. Blow flies (Diptera: Calliphoridae) are among the first colonizers of remains and are therefore frequently used in determining the minimum postmortem interval (mPMI). Blow fly development, however, is influenced by a variety of factors including temperature and feeding substrate type. Unfortunately, dietary fat content remains an understudied factor on the development process, which is problematic given the relatively high rates of obesity in the United States. To study the effects of fat content on blow fly development we investigated the survivorship, adult weight and development of Lucilia sericata (Meigen; Diptera: Calliphoridae) and Phormia regina (Meigen; Diptera: Calliphoridae) on ground beef with a 10%, 20%, or 27% fat content. As fat content increased, survivorship decreased across both species with P. regina being significantly impacted. While P. regina adults were generally larger than L. sericata across all fat levels, only L. sericata demonstrated a significant (P < 0.05) difference in weight by sex. Average total development times for P. regina are comparable to averages published in other literature. Average total development times for L. sericata, however, were nearly 50 hours higher. These findings provide insight on the effect of fat content on blow fly development, a factor that should be considered when estimating a mPMI. By understanding how fat levels affect the survivorship and development of the species studied here, we can begin improving the practice of insect evidence analysis in casework.
As Arizona State University moves toward virtual classroom accessibility and the fortification of education for all students around the globe (ASU Online), we must continue to develop and cultivate creative resources to bring STEM laboratory activities to those who do not have access to the resources found in many classrooms. Online science degree programs face a particular challenge, as laboratory activities must be reformatted and rethought for virtual application. ASU has recently launched an online Forensic Science major, and the ability to identify and analyze evidence at a crime scene is one of the most important skills a student-investigator can learn. The development of creative ways to address instruction in a virtual crime scene is essential to the success of this and similar programs. Through the process of identifying evidence, students can hone their critical thinking skills, as they are required to assess scenarios and decide which evidence is pertinent to a given case. By making decisions regarding the packaging of identified evidence, students learn important steps in any forensic job, such as chain of custody, the effects of material packaging on evidence preservation, and the ramifications of incorrect evidence handling. Currently, there are several virtual crime scene programs available for purchase (Crime Scenes Meet Virtual Reality | St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas). These programs offer activities such as those described above, yet they present a financial hurdle and are not customizable for specific courses or environments. Through the use of Google Slides, this project yielded an accessible and easily replicable interactive learning experience. The project resulted in a virtual crime scene that was both intuitive and integrative of generally novice technological resources such as Google Enterprise. Clickable photo slides were constructed using the linked shape imagery tools on Google Slides in order to provide an immersive learning experience.
The field of forensic science has been growing and changing with improvements in DNA analysis. One field affected is forensic entomology, which is exploring many ways in which DNA can increase the application of insects in forensic science. One application being explored is the use of insects as a source of human DNA in a criminal investigation. Using flies as a source of foreign DNA can also be utilized in ecological research to conduct surveys on the various species present in different environments. This experiment intends to determine if flies can act as a viable source of alternate DNA. This will be accomplished by an ecological survey of DNA extracted from flies. DNA extractions were performed on flies gathered from parts of the greater Phoenix area. The DNA was then amplified with primers targeting different animal species and examined to observe what animals the flies had come in contact with. Several samples had contamination due to human error and were not able to be evaluated. One DNA extraction out of fifteen yielded pig DNA, indicating flies can be used as a source of DNA. Future experiments should use different animal primers and amplify sections of DNA that can determine the different species consumed by flies. Further research into flies as a DNA source can increase the amount of information available to forensic scientists as well as improve ecologist’s observation of an environment’s biodiversity.