Barbara Prainsack

Friday, 11 November 2011, 16:00, Large Operon, EMBL Heidelberg

Barbara Prainsack, Professor of Sociology and Politics of Bioscience, Centre of Biomedicine & Society (CBAS), Brunel University, London; Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology, King’s College London

Borderless Crime, and Family Matters: Social and regulatory dimensions of forensic DNA technologies


What will crime scene work in 2020 look like? In the recent past, several new forensic technologies have been highlighted as promising to bring about rapid change in how we detect and convict offenders. The field of molecular biology is particularly promising in this respect (eg Kayser & deKnijff 2011). In this presentation I will discuss benefits and shortcomings of common and newly emerging techniques and technologies in operational, societal, regulatory, and ethical terms. Special consideration will be given to the recent Prüm Decision by the European Commission, which obliged all EU countries to make their forensic DNA databases searchable for authorities in other EU countries (on a hit/no hit basis) by August 2011 (Prainsack & Toom 2010). Besides the operational, societal, and ethical dimensions of the transnational exchange of STR-based DNA profiles, I will also address two other technologies which are not yet part of the Prüm regime: SNP-based phenotypic profiling, and rapid DNA testing. To what extent will these technologies really change the way that crimes will be solved? Are they likely to have any unintended consequences?


Kayser M, deKnijff P (2011). Improving human forensics through advances in genetics, genomics and molecular biology. Nature Reviews Genetics 12: 179-192.

Prainsack B, Toom V (2010). The Prüm regime: Situated dis/empowerment in transnational DNA profile exchange. British Journal of Criminology 50/6: 1117-1135.


Barbara Prainsack is Professor of Sociology and Biopolitics at the interdisciplinary Medicine, Science & Society programme at Brunel University in West London. Prior to joining Brunel in September 2011, she was a Reader (Associate Professor) at King’s College London.

Barbara has published widely on regulatory, societal, and ethical dimensions of the biosciences, and in particular of DNA profiling and databasing for medical and forensic purposes. Her work has featured in media such as BBC news, ABC National News Australia, Die Zeit, and Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, and is regularly cited in policy documents. Together with Richard Hindmarsh at Griffith University in Nathan, Australia, Barbara edited the first comparative collection on the governance of forensic DNA databases (Genetic Suspects: Global Governance of Forensic DNA Profiling and Databasing, Cambridge University Press, 2010). A new book on forensic DNA technologies, titled Tracing Technologies: Prisoners’ Views in the Era of CSI, will appear in 2012 (Ashgate). Since 2009, Barbara has been a member of the Austrian National Bioethics Commission advising the federal government in Vienna, Austria. Since spring 2011 she has been one of the three chairpersons of the Scientific Committee of the European Science Foundation’s (ESF) new Forward Look on Personalised Medicine.

For more details and a list of publications please click here.