Forensic Biology mainly focuses on the identification and individualization of body fluids.
Identification refers to the steps involved in the analysis of unknown stains or fluids in order to determine what the material is. The most common body fluids tested for are: blood, semen and saliva but can also include testing for urine and feces. Traditional testing methods rely mainly on colour indicator tests but there is a great deal of research into immunological and molecular biology methods.
Individualization attempts to determine whether a particular individual may or may not be the donor of a bodily substance by examining various markers. Since the 1990’s, DNA markers have been seen as the ‘gold standard’ for identification purposes. Using techniques such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), forensic biologists have been able to use variable markers found on the regular chromosomes (STR’s), the sex chromsomes (Y-STR’s) and within the mitochondrial DNA to distinguish one person’s DNA from another to a high degree of certainty. Advances in technology including work with whole genome sequencing and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP’s) ensure that DNA analysis will play a large role in forensic biology for years to come.
Forensic biologists employ their skills in a variety of careers. Most forensic biologists work in public and private forensic laboratories that deal with items from crime scenes. Technologists do much of the hands-on bench work in the areas of body fluid identification or DNA analysis. Scientists or analysts often perform lab work as well but have the added responsibilities of results interpretation and writing reports. They are often called on to present these findings in court. Some other areas where forensic biologists work include: processing of convicted offender samples in data-basing laboratories and in research within the biomedical industry and at educational institutions across the country.
Anyone wanting to become court-going analyst must have at a minimum, a B.Sc. in a biology, chemistry or forensic science-based program with coursework in biochemistry, genetics, statistics and population genetics. These elements are mandated through the accreditation standards that forensic laboratories follow. While the standards for technologists are not as stringent, most technologists have degrees or certification from a post-secondary institution.