Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre

Forensic Genetics

ESRC Research ‘Seminar series on genetics, technology, security and justice. Crossing, contesting and comparing boundaries’ (2015-17)

A team of six social scientists from Newcastle, Northumbria, and Durham Universities have been awarded a prestigious ESRC Research Seminars grant to run a series of six events between 2015 and 2017 on genetics at the interface of security, justice and health.

Led by Dr Matthias Wienroth (Newcastle University), the series' focus on forensic genetics contributes to the ESRC's Biosocial strategic priority area and has been described by the Council's review panel as "interesting, innovative and exciting." Each seminar critically examines aspects of the current and potential contributions of forensic genetics to the production of security and justice in the UK and other contemporary European societies.

For a summary of the seminar series and a list of seminars please click here.

ESRC 50 years

Seminar series summary

Security concerns – about crime, terrorism, mass death atrocities and disasters – are a key driver for the development of new technologies, and human genetics research has played an important contribution here. DNA technologies provide vital resources for the identification of human remains and the production of information that can help to provide evidence in complex crimes.

A series of six interdisciplinary seminars critically examine the potential and actual contributions of forensic genetics to the production of security and justice in the UK and other contemporary European societies. The series is influenced by the commitment of the European Union ‘Europe 2020 Strategy’ to protect the security of social infrastructures and the safety and freedom of its citizens. At the strategy’s heart lies the development of scientific and technological resources to combat threats arising from natural disasters, crime and terrorism.

The series of meetings and its connected discussions will engage with the relevant biosocial research at the intersections of genetics, technology, security and justice. It will bring together academic researchers, policy makers and practitioners from policing organisations, commercial forensic service providers, public sector organisations and civil society groups, in the UK and abroad. We will discuss how such technologies can be used to support security while respecting freedom. A network of those involved will be established to help disseminate existing research, and to identify new research avenues towards informing UK policy and practice on the uses of genetic information to address the societal challenges of justice and security.

View the Ada Jusic Artwork from the Seminars

Seminar 1

Seminar 1 - Genetics and crime. Contested boundaries, benefits and risks

Wednesday, 2 December 2015, 12:00-18:00, Room A114, Ellison Building, Northumbria University, Northumberland Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST

The initial seminar will set the stage for the series by reviewing the historical trajectory of forensic genetics from its first appearance in 1984/5. It will pay particular attention to social science studies of this trajectory, identify main themes in these studies and consider how they have addressed the relationship between criminal justice uses of genetic knowledge and applications in other domains. The seminars will provide commentary on policy and practice assertions of benefits and risks arising from genetic innovations.


Seminar 1 Invitation and Programme

Seminar 1 Talks Summary

Seminar 1 Discussion Outcomes



Seminar 2

Comparing stakeholder discourses about genetic technologies

Wednesday, 16 March 2016, 12:00 – 18:00, Department of Chemistry Room CG218, Science Site, South Road, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK

The discussion in this seminar will focus on comparing and analysing the promissory narratives, expectations and experiences of various communities involved in the production and use of forensic genetic technologies, especially emerging ones such as forensic DNA phenotyping including ancestry informative markers, and next generation sequencing. Expected impacts and safety discourses form the focus of the event, and will be the core of the discussion in each session and in the seminar overall.


Seminar 2 Invitation and Programme

Seminar 2 Talks Summary

Seminar 2 Discussion Outcomes

Seminar 3

Comparing the use of DNA in criminal investigations & DVI across European borders

Thursday, 14 July 2016, 12:00 – 18:00 and Friday, 15 July, 09:00 – 14:00, Northumbria University, Great Hall, Sutherland Building, College Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST, UK

This 2-day seminar will discuss cross-jurisdictional uses of genetic technologies in criminal justice and disaster victim identification, including the role of the UK and other member states as collaborators and within the EU.


Seminar 3 Invitation and Programme

Seminar 3 Talk Summaries

Seminar 3 Discussion Outcomes

Seminar 4

Comparing forensic and medical genetic technologies

Wed, 23 November 2016, 12:00 – 18:00, Northumbria University, Great Hall, Sutherland Building, College Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST, UK

The focus of this seminar lies on comparing the scope and uses of genetic technologies in biomedical/clinical and forensic settings. Whilst many jurisdictions currently ban routine exchange of information between ‘criminal’ and ‘medical’ databases, emerging technological innovations in genetic profiling blur the line between forensic and medical information. This seminar will discuss differences and similarities in use and governance of such technologies, and the challenges that might arise from the multiple uses that can be made of genetic information and the responsibilities that rest with the different stakeholders in acting as collectors and providers of, and guardians for, such information.


Seminar 4 Invitation and Programme

Seminar 4 Talks summary

Seminar 4 Discussion Outcomes

Seminar 5

Securitization and forensic genetics

Friday, 24 March 2017, 12:00 – 17:30, Northumbria University, Great Hall, Sutherland Building, College Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8ST, UK

The fifth event in the ESRC seminar series will focus on forensic genetics and related technologies in the context of securitization and surveillance. The seminar will expand the perspective on forensic genetics by focusing attention on pro-active/pre-emptive security measures, exploring how practices and institutions may differ between investigative and surveillance uses of forensic genetics technologies.


Seminar 5 Invitation and Programme

Seminar 5 Talks Summary

Seminar 5 Discussion Outcomes

Seminar 6

Genetics, Conflict, Race and Nation Building

Thursday, 20 July 2017, 12:00-17:15, & Fri, 21 July 2017, 10:00-15:30, Pemberton Building, Palace Green, Durham DH1 3EH, UK

The final seminar in our series will explore ways in which nation-building projects intersect with forensic technologies and security scenarios across boundaries. Using case studies, the seminar will explore how notions of nation are enacted or obscured by different social actors and their engagement with DNA technologies while constituting forensic databases, policing borders or fighting terrorism.


Seminar 6 Invitation and Programme