Review and future prospects for DNA barcoding methods in forensic palynology.

Abstract

Pollen can be a critical forensic marker in cases where determining geographic origin is important, including investigative leads, missing persons cases, and intelligence applications. However, its use has previously been limited by the need for a high level of specialization by expert palynologists, slow speeds of identification, and relatively poor taxonomic resolution (typically to the plant family or genus level). By contrast, identification of pollen through DNA barcoding has the potential to overcome all three of these limitations, and it may seem surprising that the method has not been widely implemented. Despite what might seem a straightforward application of DNA barcoding to pollen, there are technical issues that have delayed progress. However, recent developments of standard methods for DNA barcoding of pollen, along with improvements in high-throughput sequencing technology, have overcome most of these technical issues. Based on these recent methodological developments in pollen DNA barcoding, we believe that now is the time to start applying these techniques in forensic palynology. In this article, we discuss the potential for these methods, and outline directions for future research to further improve on the technology and increase its applicability to a broader range of situations.

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