Workshop on Forensic Acarology and Taphonomy

New methods for trace evidence in forensic acarology and human taphonomy
to find human corpses, age them, follow their translocation, and identify scenes of crime

Current methods in forensics use stages of decomposition to age a corpse and blood traces for scene of crime investigations.  New methods have been developed that take advantage of mites and insects to reconstruct crimes.  Mites have become incredibly valuable as trace evidence.  Mites are everywhere in the environment, in houses, in dust, and in and on our clothes, but because they normally cannot be seen with the naked eye, they are overlooked. Mites can be specific to individual humans and particular surroundings.  Mites allow tracing suspects to crime victims and scenes of crimes.  Mites have recently been shown to tell where and under which conditions a victim has died, how a human corpse has been translocated from the place of death to a place where a corpse has been burned, and, importantly, at which stage of decomposition this has occurred, providing a time line.  Mites also participate in the decomposition itself, providing additional resolution in postmortem interval estimations.

Mexico has specifically identified Forensic Science and Public Security as Research Challenge Areas for its Society.  The pathway to social welfare follows the ability to solve crimes, to trace victims, and to contribute to judicial justice.  

This workshop encompasses three areas: taphonomy, acarology, and molecular approaches.  
      Human taphonomy as the science and profession covers human decomposition, post-mortem transport, burial, and other biologic activities. These processes are region-specific depending on the particular environment, fauna, and flora.  Increasingly molecular approaches, like forensic proteomics, are investigated as well.
       Acarology contributes to the biological processes of decomposition and is one of the most informative trace sources in the interaction between people, both perpetrators and victims, objects, and the environment.  With the advantage of microsatellite data for mite species, mite specimens can now be molecularly characterised, giving acarological evidence a quantifiable probability in linking suspects to crimes and crime scenes.

By enabling and applying modern forensic methods of taphonomy and trace analyses to violent crimes, the forensic police force can enhance its investigative capabilities.  Mexico can become the first Latin American country to have region-specific taphonomy and molecularly underpinned biological trace evidence .  This will contribute to Mexico-specific stated challenge of a knowledge economy and as such be part of a specific pathway to economic development in service and knowledge provision for many other Latin countries in Central and South America. The short-term contribution to social welfare is through improved forensic services and the long-term contribution to economic development.        
      The stakeholders include the Federal and State forensic laboratories of the National and State Attorney General's Offices and forensic investigators of the various police forces.  The end-users will be early career academics conduction forensic and biodiversity research at Mexican Universities, future scientific practitioners at the forensic laboratories and in forensic experts in the private, commercial sector. The judicial system in Mexico is changing to an Oral Adversarial System to be implemented in 2016.  This new system will require a large number of scientifically trained forensic experts for the defence, highlighting the potential impact of the workshop for economic development and social justice.
      The Mexican Attorney General's Office and the National Police forensic laboratories are receiving forensic assistance as part of the Mérida Initiative from the International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) that is funded by the United States Department of Justice.  It is providing help in obtaining international accreditation.  Discipline specific training and technical assistance is being provided in DNA, questioned documents, toxicology, crime scene processing, drug analysis, firearms, and latent print examinations. 
This workshop is set out not to overlap with this programme but to complement it, covering human taphonomy, forensic acarology, and biological trace analyses.

       In their 2015 assessment of practice of forensic science in Mexico, Mario Alva Rodríguez and Rolando Neri Vela concluded that entomology, which included acarology and biological aspects of taphonomy, psychiatry and digital sciences and multimedia are underrepresented in institutional laboratories of forensic sciences.  This highlights the urgent and current need for a workshop covering these areas.  Since 2008 with the reform of the judicial system in Mexico, the number of Colleges and Universities engaging in training and research in forensic sciences rose from 2 to close to 40.  These almost 40 Colleges and Universities harbour an army of early career scientists and forensic experts that are waiting for opportunities to specialize and to apply state of the art techniques.  The workshop aims at introducing stakeholder and end-users to new techniques in human taphonomy, biological trace analyses, and molecular methods in species and population identification. It aims to encourage obtaining country-specific taphonomic reference data.  It aims to bring together critical numbers of early career scientists to develop research priorities specific for Mexico.  



Pepita, 2,300 year-old mummy of a girl found in a cave of the Sierra Gorda mountains in Querétaro