Flies help solve homicides

Imagine receiving more than $500,000 to look at flies.

Dr. Gregory Dahlem, a biology professor at Northern Kentucky University, did just that. He received a grant from the National Institute of Justice to study flies.

Beginning next month, Dahlem, along with Dr. Ron DeBry from the University of Cincinnati, will begin a three-year project studying flesh flies and blow flies, the flies that are most commonly used for forensic purposes.

Dahlem said he and DeBry, are attempting to “come up with an identification system where a police crime lab anywhere in the country could take specimens from a crime scene and, following protocol, extract the DNA and send it to the

lab to identify which species it is,” according to Dahlem.

This identification system is hoped to make it easier for police to get more accurate information about the length of time someone has been deceased.

“You can get a pretty good idea of the amount of time that a dead body has been exposed to the environment by looking at the different species of insects that are found on it and what stage of development they are in,” Dahlem said.

According to Dr. Mark Marsolais, a criminal justice professor at NKU and former police officer, this identification system would be very useful.

“From a forensics standpoint, we are looking for much more clear-cut evidence to pinpoint the time of death,” he said. In his opinion, the flies Dahlem is studying may be the forensic evidence needed to know when the death may have occurred.

Normally, the only way to tell the different species of flies apart is by looking at their sex organs, which according to Dahlem, is not an easy thing to do. “In reality there are probably less than five people in North America that can accurately identify these flies