The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)


Characterizing DNA Degradation in Severely Burned Human Skeletal Remains using STR Genotyping and NGS Targeted Capture Techniques

MATTHEW V. EMERY1,2, KATELYN L. BOLHOFNER4,5,6, STEVIE WININGEAR1,2, ROBERT OLDT3, SREETHARAN KANTHASWAMY4, JANE E. BUIKSTRA1,5, LAURA FULGINITI6 and ANNE C. STONE1,2,5.

1School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, 2Center for Evolution and Medicine, Arizona State University, 3School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, 4School of Math and Natural Sciences, Arizona State University, 5Center for Bioarchaeological Research, Arizona State University, 6Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner, City of Phoenix

April 18, 2020 2:30PM, Diamond 8-9 Add to calendar

The recovery and analysis of DNA from burned human remains represent some of the most challenging cases in forensic and bioarchaeological research. Low DNA yields are notoriously problematic in the most severe burned cases, resulting in STR dropout, low mtGenome and nuclear SNP coverage. In this study we compare STR, mtGenome, and nuclear SNP data generated using an ancient and forensic DNA extraction protocols sampled from fire-death victims. Over a period of two years, we obtained and documented 62 samples from 27 fire death and cremation cases in collaboration with the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner (Phoenix, Arizona). Samples were chosen with the goal of obtaining different skeletal elements showing different levels of burning (burn categories I-V). STR profiles were generated using the PowerPlex® ESX 17 Fast Systems STR kit by Promega. In addition, DNA extracts were converted into double-stranded DNA libraries and enriched for mitochondrial DNA and nuclear SNPs for next-generation sequencing. Our data show that STR profile quality, mtGenome, and SNP coverage significantly decreases at temperatures >550°C across both extraction procedures. However, partial STR profiles and low coverage mtGenomes were recovered using the ancient DNA extraction protocol, suggesting the retention of ultrashort DNA molecules at temperatures exceeding 550°C. These data confirm the difficulties in obtaining DNA from burnt skeletal material using conventional and next-generation sequencing technologies. Overall, our analyses suggest that ancient DNA methods offer an alternative to forensic techniques, especially under circumstances where traditional forensic applications have failed.

We thank the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) for funding this research (2016-DN-BX-0158).


Slides/Poster (pdf)