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New NIJ grant to enhance biological profile studies

Monday, September 21, 2015

Alexandra Klales in the bone lab

When called upon to generate a biological profile (age, sex, stature, ancestry) from skeletal remains, forensic scientists at Mercyhurst University are getting some much needed support, thanks to a new grant from the U.S. National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

The Mercyhurst Department of Applied Forensic Sciences learned this week that the NIJ has awarded it $126,871 to test the validity of two newer methodologies for examining human skeletal remains to estimate sex, according to Alexandra Klales, Ph.D., assistant research professor and principal investigator on the project.

The research into this aspect of forensic science will be helpful to law enforcement and others in the medico-legal community in identifying victims of crime.

“Sex estimation is the most important aspect of this profile because it essentially reduces the list by half, as the results are limited to two options: male or female. An incorrect sex assessment would greatly hinder positive identification of the unknown individual; therefore, it is imperative that the methods used for sex estimation are reliable and valid,” Klales wrote in the grant proposal.

Methods of sex estimation typically focus on the differences between sexes in the shape of the skull and pelvis. Two newer methods, the Walker (2008) and Klales et al. (2012) methods, were recently developed to incorporate the most popular skull and pelvis morphological traits into a statistical framework for accurate sex classification.

Klales said the project will harness all these traits and, once completed, will result in an interactive morphological computer program. The free database can be used in forensic and bioarchaeological contexts to estimate sex and to help establish the biological profile of unidentified individuals, many of whom have come to untimely deaths.