When DNA is lying

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Science  11 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6278, pp. 1133-1136
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6278.1133

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Greg Hampikian, who holds joint appointments in biology and criminal justice at Boise State University and heads the Idaho Innocence Project, has helped free innocent people from prison for more than 20 years by exploiting the power of DNA forensics—or by exposing its pitfalls. DNA evidence is virtually unassailable, and it has helped exonerate hundreds of wrongly convicted people. But new techniques make it possible to detect DNA at levels hundreds or even thousands of times lower than 30 years ago. This heightened sensitivity can create false positives and land innocent people in jail.

  • * Douglas Starr is co-director of the Program in Science Journalism at Boston University.

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