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Legal, Technical, and Interpretational Considerations in the Forensic Analysis of Viruses


  • Supported by Department of Homeland Security, Contract # HSHQDC-09-C-00120.

Additional information and reprint requests:

Mark R. Wilson, Ph.D.

Forensic Science Program

325 Natural Science Building

Western Carolina University

Cullowhee, NC 28723



The forensic evaluation of viruses presents new challenges to the forensic science community. Although many criminal cases have been adjudicated involving the deliberate transmission of viruses, especially HIV, this review provides a general approach to viral forensics, especially in light of significant biodefense challenges. Newly emerging techniques of nucleic acid sequencing are discussed in a forensic context. Human mitochondrial DNA analysis, wherein mixed profiles are routinely assessed in a forensic context, provides the groundwork for an interpretational approach to the issue of mixed DNA sequences. The importance of phylogenetic classification is discussed as both providing an integrated graphical depiction of the structure of viral nucleic acid variation as well as offering a tool that can be used to assess the relatedness of complex populations of nucleic acids.