Odile Loreille is an ancient DNA expert who works at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, MD. She has worked on some of the coolest identification project on earth: the Unknown Child, the Hand in the Snow, the Romanov children, and Evrett Reuss. Her true mission is to identify the 869 unidentified casualities of the Korean War buried in the Punchbowl Cemetery in Honolulu. Towards this end, she is developing new protocols to extract DNA from embalmed remains, and to detecdt and analyze smaller and smaller amounts of more highly degraded DNA. She specializes in mitochondrial DNA analysis, since this is usually the type of DNA that survives as remains become increasingly degraded.

Unknown Child on the Titanic – Part IV (Conclusion)

By |2010-08-21T14:55:54-07:00August 21st, 2010|

When AFDIL attempted an identification through Y-DNA, I was asked by my colleague Dr. Odile Loreille to find a Y-DNA reference for Sidney Goodwin.  We were just finishing up the identification of The Hand in the Snow, so she knew I was available for a new project. Of course, my first step was to search Ancestry.com to obtain information about the Goodwin genealogy.  I immediately found Sidney's parents Frederick and Augusta in 1901 living in Middlesex with their four oldest children Lillian (5), Charles (4), William (2), and Jessie (1).  Frederick was listed as a print compositer.  Because Frederick and his sons perished on the Titanic, to find a Y-reference for the family I researched Frederick's [...]

Unknown Child on the Titanic – Part III

By |2010-08-19T01:05:26-07:00August 19th, 2010|

To understand what happened next, you have to know a little about mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).  Mitochondrial DNA is contained in small, football-shaped inclusions outside the nucleus of a cell. It's widely believed that mitochondria were once independent bacteria that invaded primitive cells millions of years ago.  Instead of being digested, these bacteria took up residence in the cell, forming a symbiotic relationship with it.  The cell provided them with food and water, and the mitochondria provided the cell with energy for metabolism and heat.  The arrangement worked out so well that millennia later, a human cell has up to 1,000 mitochondria, each carrying five to ten copies of its own genome.     [...]

Unknown Child on the Titanic – Part II

By |2010-08-17T18:48:48-07:00August 17th, 2010|

After eight and a half decades, there was little left of the child's body. Only a small piece of wrist bone and the crowns of three tiny baby teeth had survived the inclement weather and damp, slightly acidic soil. In the spring of 2002, when Parr and Ruffman determined that the child was not Gosta Paulson based on a mismatch between the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) obtained from the bone shard and DNA provided by a maternally-linked Paulson relative, the teeth became more significant in the identification efforts.  Dr. E. J. Molto, an anthropologist and the director of the Paleo-DNA Laboratory at Lakehead University, suggested that the three teeth belonged to "quite a young child".  [...]

Unknown Child on the Titanic – Part I

By |2010-08-14T22:40:06-07:00August 14th, 2010|

On April 20-23 1912, on its mission from Halifax to salvage remains from the Titanic, the crew of the cable ship Mackay-Bennett pulled 306 bodies from the frigid waters of the north Atlantic. Only one of them, body No. 4, was that of a child. At the time, the best that forensic identification could offer was the observations, recorded on an index card, that the child was a boy, about two years of age, probably a third-class passanger. Since no one came to claim the baby, the crew of the Mackay-Bennett took responsibility for the child's remains, arranging a beautiful funeral for him at St. George's Anglican Church. The [...]

Maurice Conway

By |2010-08-11T23:03:49-07:00August 11th, 2010|

The best part of our projects is the good friendships we form with the people whose lives we  touch.  On our recent trip to Ireland, Andy and I visited with Maurice Conway and his family in Co. Limerick.  Maurice provided the DNA match that confirmed that the remains found in the wreck of Northwest Flight 4422 were those of his distant cousin Francis Joseph van Zandt.   During our time together, Maurice took us to the old Conway farm where Frank's mother Margaret Conway was born and grew up.  We walked the road she walked with her sisters and brothers as they started from home for America.  And of course we paid our respects at the Conway [...]

The Hand in the Snow

By |2010-08-08T17:22:01-07:00August 8th, 2010|

Our blog would not be complete without a mention of The Hand in the Snow.  This was our first big military identification case with the Armed Forces DNA ID Laboratory, performed with a dream team of top forensic scientists.  Our successful identification of the frozen arm and hand found in the Alaska glacier as belonging to crash victim Francis Joseph van Zandt was featured in 300 newspapers worldwide, and will be published as a feature article in  Scientific American in the next few months.

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