SHE Level 4
SCQF Credit Points 20.00
ECTS Credit Points 10.00
Module Code MHC124503
Module Leader Xinhua Shu
School School of Health and Life Sciences
Subject Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • B (January start)

Pre-Requisite Knowledge

M1C121223 Cell & Biomolecules, For postgraduate students, programme admission requirements.

Summary of Content

This module will cover the application of molecular biological and other biological approaches to forensic investigation. This will focus on DNA profiling and the provision of underpinning for an in-depth understanding of the methods. The Module content will be delivered as an intensive and integrated programme of theory and associated practical work. (a) Theory will cover body fluids, blood group identification, epithelia and forensics, forensic botany, human genome and genotyping for identification purposes, archaeological DNA, human migration and genotyping. (b) Practical work will include blood group identification, DNA isolation, applications of PCR, authentication of white fish species, STR analysis and statistics.


Lecture/tutorial: Body fluids: sources of human DNA from blood, saliva, semen, urine (2 hours). Role of epithelia in detection (2 hours) Types of epithelia and their locations Growth patterns of epithelia Functions of epithelial cells and their ability to provide relevant forensic information. Blood grouping (6 hrs) Biological basis of the ABO and Rhesus blood group system. Other blood group systems and their polymorphic frequencies. Establishing blood groups and blood group antigens. DNA from non-human sources; animals and plants (1 hr Dr Adrian Linacre). The Police Forensic Service (Dr Douglas Pearston) Forensic DNA typing (2 hrs). Structure and properties of nucleic acids. Organisation of the human nuclear and mitochondrial genomes. Nature, occurrence and biology of polymorphic, repetitive DNA sequences in the human genome. Standard methods for the isolation of DNA and modifications required under crime scene conditions. The PCR and its use in the analysis of human DNA. Identification of individuals by fragment analysis of a suite of STRs, associated Quality Assurance and data management. SNPs and genotyping. Forensic DNA-analysis of archaeological samples. Human evolution and migration based on DNA analysis of current populations. Forensic Bioinformatics (2 hours) Practical work Blood group typing. Genotyping: Isolation of DNA from buccal swabs; PCR of human DNA and characterization of PCR product and genomic DNA by agarose gel electrophoresis; PCR of a suite of STRs and fragment analysis with an automated sequencer; SNP determination using qRT-PCR; use of bio-informatics. Authentication of white fish species: Isolation of DNA from white fish (four species), PCR of mitochondrial DNA fragments and restriction endonuclease digestion.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the module the student should be able to:a) Demonstrate an understanding of the uses of body fluids in forensic investigation.b) Demonstrate an understanding of the nature of epithelial cells and how they can provide relevant informationc) Blood groups: demonstrate an understanding of the basis of the ABO and Rhesus blood group systems including frequency and genetics. Demonstrate an understanding of the serological characteristics of the antigens and antibodies of the ABO and Rhesus systems.d) Demonstrate an understanding of the detailed structures of DNA and RNA.e) Demonstrate an understanding of the methods available for nucleic acid isolation from a variety of starting materials.f) Appreciates the uses and limitations of PCR.g) Have knowledge of the organisation of the human genome with emphasis on polymorphic, repetitive sequences used for identification purposes (Variable Number Tandem Repeats, microsatellites, Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms).h) Have knowledge of the uses and tools of bio-informatics.

Teaching / Learning Strategy

Students of BSc Forensic Investigation cover a wide range of subject disciplines so the delivery of a specialist, L4 module presents a specific challenge. This requires that there is sufficient underpinning to enable the students to reach an advanced level even though their previous learning is not what would have been provided for students on single discipline programmes. We have had considerable success in the delivery of specialist material to non-specialist learners by the use of intensive workshop-based approaches. The key to this method is to deliver the material continuously over the period of one week and to use an intercalated programme of lectures, tutorials and practical work. The objectives of the workshop approach are to make significant advances in student knowledge and understanding, starting from a relatively low level to achieve a specialist level. The Forensics Workshop would provide a supportive learning environment that will promote understanding of the topic. It is important that lecture periods are not time-constrained since this does not provide sufficient opportunity for students to ask questions and for tutors to fill gaps in knowledge. Lectures thus simultaneously provide tutorial opportunities and allow consolidation of existing knowledge, learning of new knowledge and inclusion of underpinning material where this is deemed to be necessary by the students and tutors. Practical work is not usually included in standard BIO L4 modules but since Forensic Biology is a practical subject it is important that students have some relevant practical experience. Specifically they should have the opportunity to develop DNA genotyping skills. This is also best developed in a Workshop environment. The lecture material is intended not only to provide theory but also to include key practical detail before each, new practical element is carried out. All lectures are delivered digitally in the laboratory in an informal manner allowing interaction and questions as needed by the participants. Single student working is used for laboratory work allowing participants to develop the practical skills at their own pace. Practical skills are taught by academic practitioners and with a low student to staff ratio to allow extensive, individual bench-side assistance. Assessment Methods Assessment will be continuous and consist of two parts. (A) The assessment of the practical work and associated theory will be based on one-to-one interviews between tutor and student that cover each discrete part of the programme. The students will be required to attend with their laboratory book and practical outputs and describe the results obtained supported with appropriate evidence (gel images, restriction endonuclease digestion, DNA sequence data etc). Marks will be awarded equally between the practical outcome of the experimental work and the understanding of theory and ability to interpret the result. Assessments will occur on several days of the workshop. A mark will be allocated for record-keeping by an assessment of individual student laboratory books. (B) A dissertation will be completed by students who will be given a choice of topics based on knowledge gained in the Workshop but requiring additional research and student-centred effort. The dissertations may be based on how forensic biology was used or abused in specific crime cases or how it is used in other contexts such as establishing population history.

Indicative Reading

Butler J M (2005). Forensic DNA typing; biology, technology and genetics of STR markers. 2E, Elsevier. Gibson G and Muse SV. 2004 A primer of genome science 2E, Sinaeur Brown T (2002): Genomes 2nd Edition, BIOS Kierszenbaum AL (2002). Histology and Cell Biology - An Introduction to Pathology. Mosby Forensic Science: An Introduction to Scientific and Investigative Techniques, Second Edition Stuart James, Jon J. Nordby eds (2E)

Transferrable Skills

Laboratory skills in genotyping. Analytical skills for the interpretation of genotyping data and restriction endonuclease digestion map . Ability to use network-based bioinformatic resources.

Module Structure

Activity Total Hours
Independent Learning (FT) 132.00
Lectures (FT) 24.00
Practicals (FT) 24.00
Assessment (FT) 20.00

Assessment Methods

Component Duration Weighting Threshold Description
Coursework 2 0.00 50.00 n/a Dissertation
Coursework 1 0.00 10.00 n/a Laboratory report
Exam (School) 1.00 40.00 n/a Practical skills and understanding