Forans laboratory specializes in ancient and forensic DNA evidence, often working with human remains that are thousands of years old. The nearly 100-year-old microscope slide, sent to Michigan State from the Royal London Hospital Archives and Museum, is the same one the pathologist Bernard Spilsbury used to help hang Crippen. In 1910, forensic pathology was more primitive;
Spilsburys testimony, identifying what he claimed was an abdominal scar consistent with Coras medical history, convinced the jury that these were Coras remains.
Crippen went to the gallows insisting he was innocent.
The present-day challenge: getting past the pine sap that sealed the slide and the formaldehyde used to preserve the tissue in order to examine the mitochondrial DNA that could identify Cora Crippen based on the genetic history of her maternal relatives.
Mitochondrial DNA is the genetic blueprint that is passed down in the egg from mother to daughter. Unlike regular DNA, which comes from the cells nucleus, Foran explained that mitochondrial DNA remains more stable in aged tissue and is easier to retrieve. Also, mitochondrial DNA remains relatively undiluted through generations, offering a reliable familial match.
Forans laboratory has devised methods to extract and isolate mitochondrial DNA. Unable to break through the sap seal, he chipped away at the slides glass cover slip to get at the tissue sample. One of his graduate students recently studied ways to work around formaldehyde fixation to isolate DNA.
The goal: compare the mitochondrial DNA in the slide that convicted Crippen with Wills assignment finding a maternal relative of Cora Crippen. If Hawley Crippen indeed killed his wife and buried some of her remains in the cellar, those remains would share specific DNA characteristics with Cora Crippens current day relat
|Contact: David Foran|
Michigan State University