Field Contamination of Skeletonized Human Remains with Exogenous DNA


  • Presented at the 61st Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, February 16–21, 2009, in Denver, CO.

  • The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not those of the U.S. Government, Department of the Navy, Department of the Army, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (MRDC), or the American Registry of Pathology (ARP). Mention of any product is merely a statement of use and should not be construed as an endorsement.

Additional information—reprints not available from author:

Suni M. Edson, M.S.

Assistant Technical Leader – Mitochondrial DNA Section

Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory

115 Purple Heart Drive

DAFB, DE 19902



The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory reports the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences of over 800 skeletal samples a year for the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command–Central Identification Laboratory. These sequences are generated from degraded skeletal remains that are presumed to belong to U.S. service members missing from past military conflicts. In the laboratory, it is possible to control for contamination of remains; however, in the field, it can be difficult to prevent modern DNA from being transferred to skeletal elements and being carried forward through the analysis process. Four such cases are described here along with the controls in place in the laboratory to eliminate the possibility of the exogenous DNA being reported as authentic. In each case, the controls implemented by the laboratories prevented the false reporting of contaminant exogenous DNA from remains that were either faunal or human, but lacked endogenous DNA.