PD Dr Burkhard Rolf is Head of DNA Services here at DNA Legal, leading a highly-skilled and dedicated team of forensic scientists at our world-leading laboratory. His wealth of experience ensures that we continue to pioneer the most advanced testing in the world, guaranteeing the highest levels of accuracy for all cases.
Here, he reveals how his love of the science has led to exciting new discoveries.
What did you study, and why did you choose to specialise in DNA testing?
When I left school, I wanted to do something in the field of environmental protection and thought a degree in chemistry would be a good start. However, during my studies, I came into contact with biochemistry and was fascinated to learn that molecules can make up living organisms – they’re the blueprint for all life. So, I decided to specialise in biochemistry. From there, it is only a small step towards DNA testing. After I finished my PhD in Biochemistry, I started in a forensic DNA testing lab at the University of Münster in Germany.
What makes you an expert in your field?
I spent my entire professional career in the area of forensic research and DNA testing. I have been working with almost every kind of human sample types and have been involved in difficult and complex cases, requiring a broad knowledge of methods and techniques.
Sometimes. I even had to find new ways of testing to solve cases. As a university scientist, I authored and co-authored more than 50 scientific articles on various aspects of forensic DNA testing. Today, I am the director of the largest privately-owned forensic DNA lab in Germany.
How important is it to get the right result at the first time of asking?
In our daily business we are faced with the analysis of crime scene samples as well as relationship testing for public authorities and private clients. No matter which type of samples and what kind of question needs to be solved, it is mandatory that the results are correct the first time.
This is important in every testing discipline, but extremely important in forensics, where test results can have legal consequences. But also for private relationship testing, correct results are important as it may change the whole life of a person. If a case cannot be solved conclusively with our DNA testing, we will report the result “inconclusive”.
This may be the case where there is not enough sample material or where important samples for comparison are not available. Never will results be issued that are not absolutely correct. Our customers trust us and will usually not require a second expert opinion. We want to deserve that trust and confidence by providing the correct test results the first time. Also, with trace samples there may not be a second chance for getting the result right a second time, so it has to be correct.
Can you give examples of cases you've worked on where you've provided expert analysis? Have you solved previously inconclusive results?
We are working on several thousand cases per year, and many target the private sector. However, we have been the first lab worldwide that has been able to differentiate monozygotic MZ twins – previously, these were considered genetically identical and it was impossible to tell DNA samples apart. Therefore, it was a real dogma for forensic science, not being able to tell criminal suspects apart using standard testing techniques.
We were the first lab that discovered a new test – identifying extremely rare mutations by ultra-deep next generation sequencing – allowing us to solve the unsolvable. We have published our findings and now offer this test for casework.
What advice would you give to lawyers and solicitors looking for a DNA testing service?
A DNA testing lab should have accreditation according to ISO17025 in the area of service requested. This is a good sign of quality. They should have ample experience in that area and provide expert advice on testing.
What questions should they ask the testing provider?
As in every area, experience in what you are doing is a good pre-condition for quality. Ask your provider how often they do such testing. If it is only a few tests per month, you might want look for another lab.
Thanks to PD Dr Rolf for taking the time to talk to us. If your client requires DNA testing, contact DNA Legal for expert advice and peace of mind.