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Aberdeen forensic science conference explores role of animals, plants and soil in criminal inquiries

By Kirsty Brown

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Forensic scientists from across Europe gathered in Aberdeen for the ninth meeting of the Animal, Plant and Soil Traces (APST) Working Group of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI).

Around 50 experts attended the three-day event which was held at the James Hutton Institute’s Craigiebuckler site between April 27-29.

The ninth ENFSI-APST meeting showcased the crucial role that soil and biological traces of non-human origin can play in criminal investigations.

Delegates focussed on real case examples of where the understanding of how animal, plant and soil traces can contribute to forensic investigations and will feature case studies, workshops and perspectives from across the globe.

The delegates will also meet the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, who will welcome them to the city.

The conference’s broad-ranging programme included sessions on wildlife forensics, soil trace evidence analysis, geographical profiling, biological traces, non-human DNA analysis, forensic botany, microplastics in soil, thermal imaging, and the use of canine DNA intelligence, among many other topics.

Soil and biological traces of non-human origin can play a key role in criminal investigations.
Soil and biological traces of non-human origin can play a key role in criminal investigations.

Prior to the event Professor Lorna Dawson, head of soil forensics at the James Hutton Institute, said: “We are delighted to host this meeting in Aberdeen and to discuss the work that is being carried out in soil within the UK, on soil, botany and non-human DNA.

"There are keynote speakers from Police Scotland, the SPA Forensic Services, SASA Wildlife Crime unit and James Hutton Limited.

"We look forward to discussing new approaches and methods with our colleagues from across Europe and build cooperation and collaboration and sharing best practice across the world in delivering to the Criminal Justice System”.

APST chairperson Dr Irene Kuiper, of the Netherlands Forensic Institute, said: “The wide range of themes being discussed in Aberdeen demonstrates the importance and diversity of this field of forensic expertise.

"Practicalities in casework, innovations in technologies, expertise on calculation of the evidential value and setting quality standards will all be touched on during the meeting.

"We achieve more when we meet each other in person and work together.”

The activities of APST offers a scientific platform to collaborate, exchange experiences, discuss analytical issues, plan collaborations and generate a network of forensic trace experts.

It also provides a forum for the validation, introduction and improvement of morphological, chemical, physical and molecular biological analysis in casework.

ENFSI was founded in 1995 with the purpose of improving the mutual exchange of information in the field of forensic science.

This, in addition to improving the quality of forensic science delivery in Europe, has become the main aims of the network.

The APST group supports the aims and objectives of ENFSI in the area of casework analysis of all kinds of biological traces of non-human origin and also soil traces.

Besides the general work in the fields of quality and competence management, research and development and education and training, different forensic expertise are dealt with by 17 different working groups in ENFSI, of which APST is one.

ENFSI has been recognized as the central organisation in the field of forensic science by the European Commission.

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