Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Forensic botany class sheds light on lesser known investigative science, examines popular television crime shows

KINGSVILLE - August 03, 2006

Contact: Jason Marton
jason.marton@tamuk.edu or 361-593-4143

Can plants fight crime? In the unique field of forensic botany, the answer is yes, and this field will be examined in detail at Texas A&M University-Kingsville this fall with a new class.

Dr. Cynthia M. Galloway, professor of biology, serves as the instructor for this course.

What is forensic botany? Quite simply, it is the use of plant evidence to solve crimes. According to Galloway, this evidence could be something as slight as pollen grains stuck in the mud of a suspect’s shoe, found only in the area where a crime has been committed or recovered from earwax, nasal passages, clothing, upholstery and other places on a person.

“Botanical evidence has been used as early as the 1930's but is often not used to its full potential because the area of botany is overlooked by many people,” said Galloway. “One of the earliest cases using botanical evidence to solve a crime was the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial, where a ladder found at the crime scene was traced back to the suspect. One of its rungs was matched with wood found in the suspect’s shop. Tool marks found on the wood also corresponded with the suspect’s tools.”

Another example of forensic botany in action includes a conviction earned in part from seed pods. DNA isolated from the cells of seed pods found in the bed of a suspect’s truck was matched to the DNA from the tree a crime victim was found under.  The suspect said he had never been in the area where the victim was found, yet the DNA found in his truck said otherwise.

“They say that if botanical evidence had been used in the O.J. Simpson trial, the verdict may have been different,” said Galloway.

The class will pay special attention to television programs like C.S.I., Cold Case Files, Crossing Jordan and others.

“ Some assignments may be given for the students to watch episodes of crime shows, to see how often botanical evidence is used and how important it was to the outcome,” said Galloway. “As the class progresses, some shows not using botanical evidence will be shown to see where botanical evidence may have helped the case.”

By the end of the class, Galloway would like her students to walk away with an appreciation for plants and their importance in everyday life; the ability to observe and analyze observations logically; and to take advantage of all resources available to solve problems.

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