Friday, November 4, 2016

You can get a DNA match on cremated remains?

An odd story that you may have heard about this weekend - an afternoon production at the Metropolitan Opera in New York was stopped because someone was sprinkling a white powder into the orchestra pit: 
...It was during the second intermission at Saturday’s matinee of “Guillaume Tell” that a man was spotted sprinkling a white powdery substance into the Met’s orchestra pit, around the timpani and the conductor’s podium, before walking out. Musicians reported it, and, amid fears that the powder could have been a dangerous substance such as anthrax, the remainder of the opera was canceled so the police could investigate...
As it turns out, someone was trying to honor a deceased friend and opera fan by scattering their cremated remains (emphasis mine):
...Investigators said that Mr. Kaiser told them that he tries to scatter the ashes discreetly so as not to cause alarm. He had walked out of the opera house gone to dinner, and hoped to return for the evening performance, the official said. 
The police, in consultation with the Met, decided not to charge Mr. Kaiser with a crime. 
As a precaution, the substance was sent to a lab for further testing to confirm that it was human remains...
You can test to figure out whether or not cremated remains are human? Thanks to John Campbell on Twitter, I have discovered that there's a DNA test for cremated remains. I presume this is PCR-related? I'm a little skeptical for that DNA can survive cremation, but who knows? 


  1. i am not sure, but, i would ask this: is it possible that what they will really do is test the substance to ensure that it is consistent with ash from burning an animal?

  2. crematorium ashes do not contain practically any organic compounds, not mentioning DNA. Also, burning corpse of a victim in a car with full tank of gas has been used successfully for a long time, to obscure identity and erase all forensic traces. DNA can be preserved in charred remains, i.e. within molars, but high enough temperature to obscure dental work identification will obviously wipe out any traces of DNA.

    1. Based on some hasty Googling, it sounds like not all crematoria are equally well-insulated, and not all crematoria are equally well-fueled. As a result, some burn much hotter and reduce bone/teeth to fine fragments, and others need to extensively grind hard tissue down. The latter sound like candidates for DNA analysis.