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Forensic Science International: Animals and Environments
Volume 1, 2021, 100030

Current methods, future directions and considerations of DNA-based taxonomic identification in wildlife forensics

Kelly A.Meiklejohna, Mary K. Burnham-Curtisb, Dyan J. Straughanb, Jenny Gilesc, M. Katherine Moored

North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dept. of Population Health and Pathobiology, 1060 William Moore Drive, Raleigh, NC 27607, USA.

Abstract

Wildlife forensic analyses are frequently concerned with taxonomic identification, and very often employ amplification and Sanger sequencing of informative regions of the genome to achieve this. The materials submitted to wildlife forensic laboratories for taxonomic identification span a wide scope, from plant and animal parts in trade to assemblages of incidental biota at crime scenes. As these analyses take place within the context of legal proceedings, the wildlife forensic community is subject to unique requirements and considerations. These requirements and considerations are quite different from those of human forensic DNA, and have driven standardization in this field. While there has been extensive debate over appropriate DNA-based methods for taxonomic identification of a wide variety of biota in research settings, there has been little discussion on the issues associated with this approach in the high scrutiny environment of forensic science. This review outlines: key procedural and biological factors that may impact the accuracy of interpretation and reporting taxonomic identifications; resulting conventions employed by the wildlife forensics community; and implications for the use of emergent DNA sequencing technologies in taxonomic identification of wildlife in casework.

Keywords Specimen identification, Species identification, Genetic markers, Taxonomic assignment, Molecular forensics, Wildlife trade, Wildlife crime, Mitochondrial DNA.

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