Do Objects Tell Stories about a Violent Act?

Do Objects Tell Stories about a Violent Act?

A Brief Encounter with Forensic Biotechnology

Ritesh Kumar Shukla

Ritesh Kumar Shukla

Assistant Professor, School of Arts and Sciences

The list of crime cases is increasing day by day, but simultaneously, science and technology have increasingly become equipped with advanced technologies to combat such heinous acts. The branch of science that helps unveil the mystery from a crime, thereby holding up the truth in front of courts of law, is known as Forensic Science. Among many crime cases in India, some high-profile ones like Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the Tandoor murder case, Priyadarshini Mattoo rape and murder, Delhi Bus gang rape case have been solved with the help of forensic science. 

In the case of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the victim’s body was completely fragmented and could not be identified. In such a situation, the famous Indian DNA expert Dr Lal ji Singh (who was scientist at CSIR-CCMB, Hyderabad) came forward and took on the responsibility of identifying the body using DNA fingerprint technology. The technology he used had been developed in the UK only a few years before this assassination. This case became made history in Indian Science, as DNA fingerprinting technology was used to identify a victim from a fragmented part of his body for the first time. Blood stains on a knife, on a table or on a carpet, bloody fingerprints on a door handle, footprints on the floor, a ransacked cupboard, tool mark impression on a locker indicate violent crimes. How do these objects tell a story about a violent act and link it to the person who committed it? Further, how does a small droplet of blood help to identify the culprit as well as distinguish between people (if more than one) involved in a violent act? No, I am not writing about a murder mystery, but providing you with a glimpse of the kinds of questions you encounter in my Forensic Biotechnology course.

The course starts with providing a basic understanding of forensic science, and its role in the investigation process before leading into cutting edge developments in forensic biotechnology in terms of DNA profiling. DNA profiling is most commonly used for paternity testing and personal identification. In the course, we deal extensively with DNA profiling, and exhibit the technical, conceptual and innovative approaches of DNA technology that are used in forensics. A project-based learning approach is implemented where students strive to learn about existing technologies and explore new innovative ideas to overcome the current challenges in the field. This teaching pedagogy may help develop research interests of students in the area of forensic biotechnology.

The course discusses some of the aforementioned Indian cases where DNA forensics have been applied to solve a particular mystery. It aims to prepare students for a better understanding of DNA profiling, certification, and its importance to the Indian judicial system. It helps students to broaden their thinking and learn how a molecular biology technique could be successfully applied to solve crime cases. Thus, students learn to think critically and discuss the scientific, legal and ethical issues of DNA profiling in the forensic investigation process.

The most exciting part of this course is a mock forensic investigation process in which half of the students in the class design a mystery using the forensic science concepts they have been exposed to in the course, while the other half, tries to use their newly acquired knowledge to solve the mystery!

I offer this course not only for the dissemination of knowledge, but also to develop skills such as observation, critical and logical thinking, creativity, patience, leadership and a team spirit, and most importantly social accountability in students. 
 

Author's Profile

Ritesh Kumar Shukla

Assistant Professor, School of Arts and Sciences

Ritesh Kumar Shukla is an Assistant Professor in Biological and Life Sciences, School of Arts and Sciences, Ahmedabad University. He has completed a Master’s in Forensic Science and PhD in Toxicology and is a trained expert in fingerprint analysis from DFS Forensic Science Laboratory, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Dr Shukla also works with “Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)” as “Subject Matter Expert” in the field of Forensic Biology and Fingerprint. At Ahmedabad, his research is focused on Forensic Biotechnology (developing Bio sensing platform) and Food Forensics (investigating the authenticity/adulteration in food). He has published more than 35 research papers (citation >1900; h index 12; i10 index 14) in various international peer-reviewed journals, an edited book on Forensic Nanotechnology, and six book chapters to his credit.

Tags

Forensic sciences, project based learning, life sciences


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