The forensic sciences have a number of specializations. Among the most common are: forensic chemistry, forensic pathology, and forensic molecular biology. The chemistry department provides the kind of background you need if your interest is in forensic chemistry. If your interest is in forensic pathology, a major in cell and molecular biology with specific elective choices in human anatomy and human physiology is recommended. If your interest is in forensic molecular biology, a major in cell and molecular biology with specific elective courses in molecular biology is recommended. Recommendations for the forensic pathology and forensic molecular biology are outlined below.
There about 10,000 forensic scientists working in 500 labs across the United States, but the backlogs of evidence to be analyzed are massive. It has been estimated that an additional 10,000 forensic scientists would have to be hired to reduce the DNA analysis time below the level of a 30-day wait.
As a CMB major, make sure you have not been over-enamored by the popular television shows or books about forensic pathology, all of which are greatly sanitized. It is highly recommended that you read Death to Dust: What happens to dead bodies?, by Kenneth V. Iserson, Galen Press, 2001. Visit the forensic pathology web sites. An excellent listing of forensic science links is found at the College of American Pathologists web site. Also, take a human anatomy course providing cadaver experience (such as BMS 307, Human Anatomy), and take a physical anthropology course (such as ANT 363, Survey of Forensic Anthropology). Along with these, arrange for a tour of the local, or a large city medical examiner's office and speak with the pathologist, investigators, and lab techs about their experiences. Elective courses recommended for forensic pathology are: BMS 307, Human Anatomy; BMS 582, Histology; BMS 569, Neurobiology; and BMS 561, Medical and Pathologic Physiology.
Forensic molecular biology:
Forensic molecular biology involves the study of human and mitochondrial DNA (may include other primates). In addition to the core sequence of course work, Cell and Molecular Biology majors should include elective laboratory courses such as: Recombinant DNA Techniques (BMS 558), Molecular Genetics (BMS 529), and Bioinformatics (BMS 593). Other elective courses to consider outside the department would be: anthropology, biochemistry, population genetics, and evolutionary biology.
Forensic molecular biology emphasizes molecular techniques such as DNA profiling and repetitive DNA in the human genome; origin of genetic polymorphisms and how they are maintained; continuous versus discrete allele systems; DNA isolation methods; Y-chromosome haplogrouping and analysis; RFLP analysis methods; PCR-based typing systems; automated systems and DNA databases; applications of mitochondrial DNA analysis; pedigree analysis; evidence preparation; and legal and ethical considerations.
For academic programs in the forensic sciences see the listing at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences web site.
For more information
Dr. Colette Witkowski
(417) 836-5603, Professional Bldg., Room 404
Department of Biomedical Sciences
Missouri State University
Springfield, MO 65897