Biology 383

BIOL 383

Catalog Entry

BIOL 383.  Molecular Forensic Biology (4)
Three hours lecture; three hours laboratory

Prerequisites: A grade of "C" or better in either BIOL 131, BIOL 132, BIOL 231, and BIOL 232; or a grade of "C" or better in BIOL/CHEM 471/472; or a grade of "C" or better in BIOL 105 and permission of instructor.

An introduction to the basic principles and molecular techniques currently utilized by the majority of forensic laboratories performing DNA and/or protein analysis.  Lectures will provide students with an understanding of the scientific foundation for and the development of each technique.  Topics include DNA/protein structure, origins of genetic variation and methods for quantifying variation, population genetic theory used in forensic analysis, forensic informatics, statistical approaches to data analysis and legal issues associated with molecular forensics. The laboratory portion will provide students hands on experience with a variety of forensic techniques and will also train the student in proper record keeping, laboratory Quality Assurance/Quality Control requirements and performing routine laboratory calculations.


Detailed Description of Content of Course


DNA/Protein structure and function

            DNA replication



Origins and analysis of genetic variation

Mutation (point mutations, insertions/deletions, replication slippage, translocations)        

Mutation Rates

Types of genetic variation

            Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP)

            Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP)

            Microsatellites, VNTR, SSR

Y chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA



Introductory Population Genetics

Basic genetic principles, Statistics and Probability


            Migration, genetic drift, selection, mutation

            Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium


Simple Tandem Repeat (STR) database analysis

Genotype/haplotype frequency estimates and likelihood ratios.

Statistical analysis of mixed samples.

Kinship and Parentage testing.


Presumptive and confirmatory tests for biological materials

DNA extraction/quantification

DNA/Protein separation methods

Slab gel and capillary electrophoresis

Starch gel, acrylamide gel, acetate gel and isoelectric focusing.

DNA/Protein detection methods

Fluorescent Dyes, Silver staining, Isozyme analysis.

Database searching.


Record Keeping

Report Preparation

Quality Assurance/Quality Control

Laboratory validation

Dealing with biohazards


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

The course will be taught in classroom and laboratory sessions.  Classroom instruction will be a combination of lecture, discussion, group work, team learning, and case studies as determined by the instructor. 

The laboratory meetings will provide the students with the skills to choose appropriate techniques, to troubleshoot results, analyze and summarize data and to report their results in the format of the judicial system.  This course will focus particularly on the following basic laboratory skills:

·      Database searches and effective use of Boolean operators

·      Calculation of concentration

·      Gel and capillary electrophoresis

·      Statistical analysis of data

·      Sterile technique

·      Phylogenetic analysis of molecular data.


Goals and Objectives of Course

Students successfully completing this course should meet the minimum criteria described in section 5.3.1 of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Quality Assurance Standards for the position of Examiner/analyst in Forensic DNA Testing Laboratories.  This course will provide students with: 

“a basic understanding of the foundation of forensic DNA analysis, as well as course work and/or training in statistics and population genetics as it applies to forensic DNA analysis.”


Students successfully completing this course will be able to:

  • Describe in detail the relationship between meiosis and the inheritance of alleles.
  • Describe the various types of mutation and how they arise and are inherited.
  • Explain the relationship between gene duplication and the divergence of protein function.
  • Describe the molecular structure of nucleic acids and proteins.
  • Describe DNA replication in vivo and in vitro.
  • Determine allele and genotype frequencies within and among populations.
  • Correctly apply probability theory to determine likelihood of observing the genotype of a given individual.
  • Determine the confidence interval of observing a given genotype within a characterized population.
  • Describe the origin and types of genetic variation observed in human (eukaryotic) populations.
  • Apply statistical test to the evaluation of genetic data.
  • Explain mathematically how allele frequencies behave in populations under the assumptions of Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium and with the assumptions of natural selection and genetic drift.
  • Explain expected correlations between allele frequencies and “race.”
  • Given mitochondrial sequence data be able to determine likelihood of being derived from a particular ethnic group.
  • Accurately perform standard laboratory calculations associated with molecular techniques (Molar concentrations, weight/volume concentrations, % volume concentrations, dilutions etc.).
  • Effectively search public databases using limits, histories and Boolean operators.
  • Identify and be able to convert among various file formats used in standard bioinformatic applications.
  • Perform electrophoretic separation of biological molecules using the appropriate technique (acetate gel, starch gel, polyacrylamide, agarose).
  • Describe procedures required for quality assessment/quality assurance in a forensic DNA testing laboratory.
  • Given mitochondrial haplotype data and/or SSR data perform statistical analysis and write a report in standard format.


Assessment Measures

Methods of assessment will include:

–        Analysis of written examinations, quizzes, writing to learn and other writing assignments, practical laboratory examinations, and laboratory reports. Some component of the laboratory assessment will test the student’s ability to make measurements and use the equipment. Assessment measures may also include evaluation of student presentations and graded homework, depending on the instructor.

–         Analysis of skills in comprehending, synthesizing, and articulating course content.

–         Analysis of students’ skills in critical thinking.


Other Course Information



Approval and Approval

New Course 2/16/09    Gary Coté