Dr. Denene Lofland

 

Our guest expert today is Dr. Denene Lofland. Dr. Lofland received her PhD in pathology from the Medical College of Virginia, and she’s a trained clinical microbiologist. She has served as the Director of Clinical Laboratory Sciences at Wright State University, and has worked in biotech/drug research and development for many years.

Denene has worked on drug development programs for the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). As senior director for a biotech company, she contributed to the FDA approval of gemifloxacin (Factive), an antibiotic for the treatment of bacterial pneumonia, a drug that is now on the market and prescribed by physicians worldwide. Denene also contributed to the successful development of a drug for the treatment of cystic fibrosis. She recently served as Manager of North Carolina Operations for a company that conducts high-level research and development in areas such as anti-bioterrorism.

Dr. Lofland also supervised several projects, including government-sponsored research which required her to maintain a secret security clearance. Denene has published several articles in scientific journals and recently contributed to the thirteenth edition of Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology. She currently serves as Interim Department Head of the Medical Laboratory Science Department at Armstrong Atlantic University.

Microscopic Murder


What’s so interesting about microbiology?

Microorganisms were here before man walked the Earth, and they’ll be here after we’re gone. Actually, you would find it difficult to survive without them. Some bacteria, called commensals, live in and on our bodies to our benefit, protecting  us from invading pathogens (disease causing germs), and they produce vitamins.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the bad bugs. They’re responsible for more deaths than cancer, heart attacks, and war. They can disfigure, eat flesh, paralyze, or just make you feel so bad you’ll wish you were dead.

There are four major types of pathogenic microorganisms: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. They can cause damage directly, or they can release toxins that do the dirty work for them.

virus_big1dl.jpg

HIV virus

E.coli bacteria

Aspergillus (fungi)

Loa loa (parasite) in eye

So, how can your antagonists use microorganisms to kill? They’ll need a fundamental knowledge of microbiology, such as information that’s taught in a basic college course. Next, the bad guy will need a source of bacteria. Microbiology labs all over the world contain bugs of all types.

 

Biological safety hood for the safe handling of bacteria

Most of these laboratories are locked, so a little B&E (breaking and entering) would be in order. Or, maybe your antagonist has a connection with a person who has control of the bug of interest. If so, the evil-doer could make what’s known in the trade as a V.I.P. trip. He’d fly to the friend’s lab, place the bug in a plastic vial, hide the vial in his pocket (V.I.P.), and get back on the plane for the trip home.

Once the antagonist has the bug, he has to keep it alive and reproducing. Bacteria are grown on agar plates (food for bugs) in an incubator. In general, bacteria double in number every 20 minutes. So, if you start with just a few bugs, let’s say 10, and allow them to grow overnight…well, you do the math.

Once the killer has enough of the bug, then it’s time to deliver it to the intended victim.

 

Picking up bacteria from agar plate. The brownish-red material is the agar. The grayish coloring at the top of the agar is E.coli bacteria.

Now for a true story. It wasn’t murder, just an unfortunate accident that involved a woman, some green beans, and a home canning jar. Canning jars have lids designed to exhibit a slight indentation in their centers when food is fresh. If the indentation inverts (pops up), the vegetables may be contaminated, and should be discarded.

A woman was preparing dinner for her family and decided to serve some of her home-canned green beans that evening. She picked up a jar of beans, but thought the pop-up didn’t look quite right. So, to satisfy her curiosity, she opened the jar, touched her finger to the bean juice, and tasted it. It tasted fine to her, so she cooked the beans, and served the steaming hot dish to her family. The next day, the woman died, but her family survived. The beans contained botulism toxin, produced by the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum lives naturally in the soil.

Botulism toxin is one of the most powerful neurotoxins known to man. About 10 ounces could kill everyone on Earth. It works by paralyzing its victim.

Oh, why didn’t the other members of the woman’s family die? The toxin is inactivated by heat.

* Per request, we’ve re-posted today’s article.

Dr. Denene Lofland, presenter

Denene will be presenting an all new bioterrorism workshop at the 2013 Writers’ Police Academy.

TV: fun and fictional

 

 

Each night people from all over the world settle in to watch their favorite television sleuths solve the latest murder. You can’t turn the channel without seeing some sort of well-dressed investigator using fancy tools and equipment that would make the creators of Star Wars and and Star Trek drool with envy.

Shows such as CSI, Law and Order, and Castle are works of fiction. They’re written for our entertainment, not as research guides. Sure, some of the tools and procedures used on the shows are correct, but they’re often utilized in less-than-real situations.

Many real-life cops, prosecutors, medical examiners, and doctors cringe when they see how their profession is portrayed on the small screen. I know I have a hard time watching most of them. If I want to see real police work in action I watch reruns of the The Andy Griffith Show. For realism and an inside look at the daily lives of police officers, TNT’s Southland is top of the line. It’s probably the most realistic cop show that’s ever been on TV. Still, even Cooper and Sammy sometimes stretch the boundaries of realism.

The Andy Griffith Show did a great job of showing the compassionate side of law enforcement officers. They let their audience know that cops are real people, with real emotions, and real everyday problems.

Southland depicts police work in true form. This is how it’s really done, folks. No fancy tools or equipment, just cops doing what they do best – hitting the streets, searching for evidence, knocking on doors, and talking to people.

Fact v. Fiction

Here are a few examples of what not to believe on television shows about cops and crime scene investigation:

TV – Cops advise suspects of their rights the second they slip a pair of handcuffs on the crook’s wrists.

Fact – Miranda warnings are only read to suspects who are in custody, prior to questioning. Not the moment they click the cuffs in place. Sometimes it’s not necessary to advise the suspect of his rights. No questions = No Miranda.

Oops! Wrong Miranda.

TV – Cops fire warning shots. Or, they shoot bad guys in the leg or arm to stop them

Fact – False. Officers do not fire warning shots. What goes up must come down. And, officers never aim for legs and/or arms. Instead, they aim for center mass, shooting to stop the immediate threat.

cat-firing-warning-shotpng2.jpg

No warning shots!

TV – Doctors leave the hospital to search a patient’s house looking for clues.

Fact – You can barely get a doctor to check on patients in their hospital rooms. They’re certainly not going to someone’s house. (My apologies to Doug Lyle). Searching homes and other property is a duty of police officers, not doctors.

TV – DNA test results come back in three hours.

Fact – DNA testing normally takes a minimum of two or three days. More than likely it will be several weeks before detectives receive the test results.

TV – Detectives draw chalk outlines around dead bodies.

Fact – No. Drawing a chalk outline could destroy or alter crucial evidence.

No chalk outlines

TV – Cops leave the scene of a crime with lights and sirens going at full blast.

Fact – No. Officers only use lights and siren on the way to emergencies. Leaving a crime scene with the suspect safely cuffed and stuffed in the back seat is not an emergency.

fair.jpg

TV – CSI technicians chase criminals and investigate crimes.

Fact – Although they’re they’re highly-trained experts in their field, many CSI technicians are not sworn police officers. They have no authority to investigate crimes and arrest criminal suspects. So, no, they do not run after crooks while wearing high heels or two-thousand-dollar suits

Many CSI technicians are not certified, sworn police officers.

*Please don’t use television as a source for research about police officers. Always contact your local law enforcement officer or other trusted expert in the field for correct information that best suits the needs of your story.

Talk to an actual police officer, not someone whose third cousin was once married to a police officer’s sister’s husband who knows a guy’s barber who once lived two blocks over from a guy who went to school with a girl who works as a cleaning lady at the police department. That sort of information is not what I’d consider credible.

Unless someone has actually worn the uniform, carried a gun, worked a crime scene, and actually arrested a criminal, they’re just telling you something they’ve heard, read, or something they think they may know. After all, when you need information about plumbing, you don’t call an airplane pilot, right?

*     *     *

Attention!

Registration for the 2013 WPA opens this Friday, 3-15-13. The event sold out last year and we expect it to do so even faster this year. So please register early. This is not one you’ll want to miss.

We have a new registration system in place this year, so please read each section carefully before making your selections.

Additions, changes, and schedule updates are added to the website each day, so please check in often.

This the largest, best, and most exciting WPA we’ve ever produced!

See you in September!

www.writerspoliceacademy.com

 

When thinking of solving a convoluted murder case we often picture highly-trained, highly-skilled scientists releasing DNA from a bloody glove or sock. On TV we see experts hovering over steaming vials, boiling test tubes, and genetic analyzers. We read about the protagonist who magically locates key pieces of DNA in the most improbable locations. Sure, the science of DNA is pretty interesting. But did you know you can actually extract DVD in your own home using everyday household items?

Every living thing has its own unique DNA, including plants. In fact, the last time I was in a DNA lab we extracted DNA from a strawberry. For the purpose of this home experiment we’ll use an onion, because the smelly vegetable produces a really nice strand of DNA that’s easily seen with the naked eye.

 

First of all, you’ll need to collect the ingredients needed to unlock the DNA from the onion—approximately 100ml of finely chopped onion, a pinch of salt, meat tenderizer, rubbing alcohol, dish detergent, and 200ml of ice cold water.

Now place the chopped onion, salt, and ice water into a blender. Blend for approximately fifteen seconds (this separates the onion cells). Repeat the blending for another 20 seconds, or until the mixture becomes foamy, like the beginnings of a meringue.

Pour the foamy mixture into a glass container and add 1/6th of dish washing liquid as there is mixture (yields two tablespoons).

Swirl soap through mixture and then pour into test tubes until each tube is about 1/3 full.

Sprinkle a pinch of meat tenderizer into each tube. The tenderizer acts as an enzyme that cleans proteins away from the DNA.

Tilt the test tubes to one side and slowly pour in rubbing alcohol until the tubes are 2/3 full. The alcohol forms a separate layer at the top of the tubes.

Insert small stick or glass rod into the alcohol layer (the DNA will rise to the alcohol layer) and slowly twist in one direction (either clockwise or counter-clockwise). DO NOT shake the test tubes.

 

The onion DNA wraps itself around the stick, or rod (the DNA slightly resembles a sperm cell).

Remove the DNA from the tubes.

There you have it, your own DNA lab in the comfort of your own home. No back logs and no cross contamination from other scientists and samples. The question is, “Did the onion do it?”

lady luck

 

Each night people from all over the world settle in to watch their favorite television sleuths solve the latest murder. You can’t turn the channel without seeing some sort of well-dressed investigator using fancy tools and equipment that would make the creators of Star Wars and and Star Trek drool with envy.

Shows such as CSI, Law and Order, and House are works of fiction. They’re written for our entertainment, not as research guides. Sure, some of the tools and procedures used on the shows are correct, but they’re often utilized in less-than-real situations. Most of these television shows make many real-life cops, prosecutors, medical examiners, and doctors cringe. I can’t watch any of them. If I want to see real police work in action I watch The Andy Griffith Show, or The First 48. Forensic Files also does a pretty good job of depicting actual law enforcement techniques.

The Andy Griffith Show did a great job of showing the compassionate side of law enforcement officers. They let their audience know that cops are real people, with real emotions, and real everyday problems.

 

The First 48 depicts murder investigations in true form. This is how it’s really done, folks. No fancy tools or equipment, just real detectives doing what they do best – hitting the streets, searching for evidence, knocking on doors, and talking to people.

 

Forensic Files is a very accurate show, portraying real usage of crime-scene tools and equipment. The only drawback is that many police departments do not have access to the equipment that’s used on this show.

Fact v. Fiction

Here are a few examples of what not to believe on television shows about cops and crime scene investigation:

TV – Cops advise suspects of their rights the second they slip a pair of handcuffs on the crook’s wrists.

Fact – Miranda warnings are only read to suspects who are in custody, prior to questioning.

Oops! Wrong Miranda.

TV – Cops fire warning shots.

Fact – False. Officers do not fire warning shots. What goes up must come down.

cat-firing-warning-shotpng2.jpg

TV – Doctors leave the hospital to search a patient’s house looking for clues.

Fact – You can barely get a doctor to check on a patient in their hospital room. They’re certainly not going to someone’s house. (My apologies to Doug Lyle).

 

TV – DNA test results come back in three hours.

Fact – DNA testing normally takes a minimum of three days. More than likely, it will be several weeks before detectives receive the test results.

 

TV – Detectives draw chalk outlines around dead bodies.

Fact – No. Drawing a chalk outline could destroy, or alter, crucial evidence.

No chalk outlines

TV – Cops leave the scene of a crime with lights and sirens going at full blast.

Fact – No. Officers only use lights and siren on the way to emergencies. Leaving a crime scene with the suspect safely cuffed and stuffed in the back seat is not an emergency.

fair.jpg

TV – CSI technicians chase criminals and investigate crimes.

Fact – Although they’re they’re highly-trained experts in their field, many CSI technicians are not sworn police officers. They have no authority to investigate crimes and arrest criminal suspects.

Many CSI technicians are not certified, sworn police officers.

*Please don’t use television as a source for research about police officers. Always contact your local law enforcement officer or other trusted expert in the field for correct information that best suits the needs for your story.

Talk to an actual police officer, not someone whose third cousin was once married to a police officer’s sister’s wife. Unless someone has actually worn the uniform, carried a gun, and actually arrested a criminal, they’re just telling you something they’ve heard, or something they think they may know. After all, when you need information about plumbing, you don’t call an airplane pilot, right?