Forensic palynology has been a law enforcement tool for over 50 years. Forensic palynology is the application of pollen and spores in solving legal issues, either civil or criminal. Pollen and spores can be obtained from an extremely wide range of items, including bodies. Pollen and spores provide clues as to the source of the items and the characteristics of the environments from which the material on them is sourced. Their usefulness lies in a combination of their abundance, dispersal mechanisms, resistance to mechanical and chemical destruction, microscopic size, and morphology. Their often complex morphology allows identification to an individual parent plant taxon that can be related to a specific ecological habitat or a specific scene.
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The investigation quickly hit an impasse. Customs and Border Protection. Palynology is the study of pollen grains and other spores. The analysis of the pollen, I learned, was performed by Laurence, who works out of a Houston lab.
As it happened, the Baltimore case was off limits, but he could talk about his own profession and its lonely practitioners.
And what he had to say was illuminating. Bryant trained his student, Andrew Laurence, who was hired by U. Customs and Border Protection in , while still in grad school and at work on his dissertation. The work, as Laurence describes it, is mindboggling. There are , different species of plants on the planet, each with its own unique pollen type.
Even if the same types of plants are growing in different areas, the abundance of each plant may be different. For example one place may have 70 percent pine, 20 percent oak, and 10 percent grass while another area may have 40 percent pine, 40 percent oak, and 20 percent grass.
Same plants, different composition. Each region has its own unique pollen print generated from those plants. Even if you put clothes through a washing machine, a pollen print remains. As an investigative tool, forensic palynology has proven its use for decades.
Why, then, is year-old Laurence the only full-time forensic pollen analyst in the United States? At least The most famous forensic-palynology case, and one that Laurence looks to as a landmark, is the first. In , in Austria, a man disappeared and, despite the lack of a body, was presumed murdered. The investigators had little physical evidence, but they had a suspect with a muddy pair of boots. As recounted in Criminal Psychology and Forensic Technology, a local palynologist found in the boots a million-year-old fossil of hickory pollen, from a tree that no longer grew in Austria.
But there was a small area, on the Danube River, where the pollen grain had been absorbed into the environment. Presented with this information, the suspect disclosed the whereabouts of the body.
Since then, forensic palynology has been embraced by law enforcement in the United Kingdom and, with particular enthusiasm, in New Zealand. Mildenhall achieved prominence in , when he consulted on the case of Kirsa Jensen , a vanished a schoolgirl, and solved it.
The case received so much attention in New Zealand that police used him for other cases. Mildenhall has since worked on to cases internationally, spanning the theft of a lawnmower to murder. Whereas the U. This is troublesome because, ideally, the palynologists should collect samples as soon as possible, to avoid contamination.
Forensic palynology is arguably a victim of its own success. Customs and its constituents provides. Palynology takes years of training.
For forensic palynology, tack on geography and climatology. After all that work, graduates tend to gravitate toward the money. He emailed:. What they ought to be doing is training more people like me to do this type of work…. In , U. The agencies agreed a centralized pollen database was a necessity.
Mark Bush , a professor of biological sciences at Florida Institute of Technology who had experience building pollen databases, was chosen to head the project. From the outset, Bush recalled, he was adamant the database should not simply be a cache of images.
Does the name match the grain? The surface patterns or size and even shape of pollen grains change, depending on the mount they were put on and how long ago. He also went to top-flight herbaria and built materials only from the voucher herbarium specimens. The project is now in the third year of a three-year phase, which ends in July The aim to is to amass 4, by the end of the funding period and, ultimately, 10—12, grains.
An investigation revealed that her death was the result of being punched in the abdomen. Both pleaded not guilty, and will be in court on November 19 for a probable cause hearing. Laurence has moved on to other cases, but this one sticks with him.
He received the samples in July and started processing them immediately. Processing took a single day. Only the cedar-of-Lebanon can grow there. The soot mixed in with the pollen told investigators her surroundings were urban. Somewhere near Boston, they concluded.
Thanks to Laurence, the police realized the child was local. We want to hear what you think about this article.
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What is Forensic Palynology? - Definition & Cases
Forensic palynology relates to the application of the study of pollen and spores to legal matters, often used to establish links between objects, people and places based on the analysis and identification of pollen. Pollen and Spores Pollen refers to a powder containing the male gametophytes of seed-producing plants, produced and dispersed in order to pollinate and reproduce. Pollen grains are dispersed in a variety of ways. Anemophilous plants produce pollen to be dispersed by wind. The extent of travel can depend on a variety of factors including the strength and direction of the wind, the weight and shape of the grain, and atmospheric conditions, though the pollen will typically fall within around 2km of the parent plant. Pollen produced by hydrogamous plants is transported by water, whereas zoogamous plants use animals such as bees, birds and rodents to disperse their pollen.
The investigation quickly hit an impasse. Customs and Border Protection. Palynology is the study of pollen grains and other spores. The analysis of the pollen, I learned, was performed by Laurence, who works out of a Houston lab. As it happened, the Baltimore case was off limits, but he could talk about his own profession and its lonely practitioners. And what he had to say was illuminating. Bryant trained his student, Andrew Laurence, who was hired by U.
Forensic palynology is the study of pollen , spores and other acid-resistant microscopic plant bodies, including dinoflagellates, to prove or disprove a relationship among objects, people and places that pertain to both criminal and civil cases. Pollen can reveal where a person or object has been, because regions of the world, countries, and even different parts of a garden will have a distinctive pollen assemblage. As an example of use in investigation of homicides, a dead body may be found in a wood. The clothes may contain pollen that was released after death the time of death can be determined by forensic entomology. If it is found to be from a place other than where the body was found, this indicates that the body was moved after death. Palynology is the study of pollen, spores, and other microscopic plant bodies such as dinoflagellates marine algal cysts.
Fighting Crime, With Pollen
Forensic palynology the study of pollen grains. Forensic palynology is an underutilized, but important tool for obtaining trace evidence from suspects, items thought to be associated with a crime scene, or for determining the geolocation of a sample. First used more than 50 years ago in Austria, it is now often used in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and more recently, in other countries of Europe and Asia, but is still underused in the United States. Forensic palynology has gained importance for its ability to provide information about pollen and spores trapped in clothing or other items of interest needed to help resolve criminal and civil cases, including instances of homicide, terrorism, genocide, bombings, forgery, theft, rape, arson, counterfeiting, manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs, assault, cases of hit and run, poaching, and identity theft. The foundation for using pollen in forensic applications comes from the discipline of pollen analysis,