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What is Forensic Botany?

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Julie Roby

on 21 June 2014

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Transcript of What is Forensic Botany?

What is Forensic Botany?
Applied Forensic Botany

Julie Roby

Image from Vision Engineering http://www.visioneng.com/products/stereo-microscopes/sx45-industrial-stereo-microscope
How do you become a Forensic Botanist?
Education requirements (CSI)
Walker, D. 1999. "Studying Pollen". Microscopy UK. Retrieved from http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/indexmag.html?http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/mag/artjul99/pollen.html
Image retrieved from http://www.csitechblog.com/crime-scene-investigation/page/2/
Logically, a forensic botanist looks at plant material in order to connect it to crime scenes. According to the school for Criminal Scene Investigator, "forensic botanists use their skills to understand where and when a crime was committed and who committed the crime" (CSI).
In a nutshell, they take evidence from the scene, and take a much closer look at it to understand more regarding the crime.
Examining evidence
Upon looking closer at evidence, forensic botanists can discover what type of pollen or seed was at the scene and where it came from. In the case of this pollen, it is from a flower called the
Iris pseudocorus
(Walker). If this pollen was found at a crime scene without this particular plant, it could give investigators a necessary lead to solve the crime.
Stagg, K. 2012. "CSI Forensic Entomology Class". Holliston Reporter. Retrieved from http://www.hollistonreporter.com/article/6603/CSI-Forensic-Entomology-Class.html
Chandra, R. & Sharma, V. 15 March 2014. "Forensic Botany: An Emerging Discipline of Plant Sciences". Indian Botanists. Retrieved from http://www.indianbotanists.com/2014/03/forensic-botany-emerging-discipline-of.html
"What is Forensic Botany?". Criminal Scene investigator.edu (CSI). Retrieved from http://www.crimesceneinvestigatoredu.org/forensic-botanist/
Becoming a forensic botanist is more than just studying the microscopic elements of plants. There are many subdisciplines are required to ensure the botanist is capable of understanding the complete micro picture. This is a career where being well-rounded during college is beneficial.
Plant Subdisciplines (CSI)
Cont. Subdisciplines (CSI, Chandra & Sharma)
This is the study of pollen and helped the forensic botanist in the 1992 case in out textbook (Nabors).
This is the study of tree rings and is useful to help date older crime scenes.
This is the classification of plants and allows a diversified understanding of evidence.
This is the study of ecosystems and is important because certain plants cannot survive in specific ecosystems.
This is the study of aquatic environments and helps understand which plant materials are out of place.
This is the study of a bodies construction. For a forensic botanist, this is not just limited to the construction of a plant; included in anatomy is having an understanding of animal anatomy. If evidence comes from inside an organ (like a stomach), it is important to know the impacts of chemical reactions in this location.
Plant Biotechnology
It is important for a forensic botanist to continue studying emerging plant Biotechnologies as it is a rapidly expanding industry.
Molecular Biology
This is the study of biology at a molecular level. Molecular biology enables the forensic botanist to understand methodology of the microscopic world.
Nabors, M.W. 2004. Introduction to Botany. Pearson Education – Benjamin Cummings: San Francisco, CA USA. 626pp. ISBN#0-8053-4416-0.
Forensic botanists usually have a bachelors/graduate degree in botany or biology. This degree does not automatically allow one to become a forensic botanist though. On top of the focuses from previous slides, the a potential student may need some of the below courses.
Environmental Appreciation
Plant Form and Function
Career Planning for Botanists
Plant Genetics
Evolutionary Survey of Plants
Plant Physiology
Introduction to Natural Resource Management
Biology of the Plant Cell
Plant Ecology
Plant Geography
Plant Evolution
Cell Culture
Topics in Botany
Advanced Field Botany
Organic Chemistry
Quantitative Analysis
College Physics
Forensic Botany: The Career
Going into this presentation, I had this image in my head of a forensic botanist working in a lab like Jack Hodgins from the TV show Bones. My research suggests otherwise though. It seems most do forensic botany secondary to a primary job. Even searching online job databases, there are more generalized forensic positions than specific ones such as botany. Often one works at a university or lab and is consulted for forensic botany (CSI). This is one aspect the TV show Bones got it right though, often the FBI, CIA, etc. do consult forensic botanists to help solve cases.
Salary (CSI)
The average annual salary varies for forensic botanists. One's experience level in the field, supervisory roles, research, management, etc. all change what salary to expect.

Salary Range
Go back and look at the big picture of this crimes scene photo, notice how the 'meat' of the presentation blends with the surrounding? This is also the case with botanical forensic evidence. One needs specialized equipment and training to discover key leads during investigations. This is why forensic botany is so important for modern investigations. Criminals are getting smarter and leave less obvious evidence. A forensic Botanist ensure microscopic evidence doesn't stay hidden for long.
Homicide vs. Suicide (Chandra et. al.)
Chandra and Sharma bring up a couple examples of cases where Forensic Botany was key in discovering what had happened. The next couple of slides discuss this.
Case 1: There was a man accused of a hit-and-run accident resulting in the death of a woman. botanical evidence showed that there were particles on the woman that could have only gotten there had she jumped.

Case 2: A man is found hanging from a tree. botanical evidence show moss from the tree on the man indicative of suicide.
Primary and Secondary Crime Scenes (Chandra et. al.)
Case 3: Body found in gutter holding bamboo. Tracing the location of this material, led investigators to the primary scene because there was no bamboo actually in the gutter. The guilty party hid the man in a "bamboo grave" after a hit and run to cover up the crime. Unfortunately, he did not die right away and had time to survive off the bamboo for some time as evident from the contents of his stomach.
Time of Death (Chandra et. al)
Case 4: Woman suspected of murdering her 8th husband. Forensic botanists were able to discover from the content of the man's stomach that he died two to four hours after he ate breakfast. The woman's alibi did not match this new information and she was convicted of murder.
Connecting the dots
Case 1-4 are perfect instances where knowledge of forensic botany enabled evidence to point towards a viable conclusion. That is because with crime scene investigation it is all about connecting the dots, and many of those dots are microscopic. A seed, pollen grain, etc. can all point investigators in the right direction to find the guilty person(s) and ensure they do not convict an innocent individual.
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