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Essential Forensic Biology, 2nd Edition

Essential Forensic Biology, 2nd Edition

Alan Gunn

ISBN: 978-0-470-75803-8

Mar 2009

436 pages


This book is an introduction to the application of biology in legal investigations. Fully revised and updated throughout, the second edition of this highly successful textbook offers an accessible overview to the essentials of the subject providing a balanced coverage of the range of organisms used as evidence in forensic investigations; invertebrates, vertebrates, plants and microbes.

The book provides an overview of the decay process and discusses the role of forensic indicators – human fluids and tissues, including blood cells, bloodstain pattern analysis, hair, teeth, bones, and wounds. It also examines the study of forensic biology in cases of suspicious death.

The coverage of molecular techniques has been expanded throughout with additional material on bioterrorism and wildlife forensics now included. The use of DNA and RNA for the identification of individuals and their personal characteristics is now covered along with a discussion of the ethical issues associated with the maintenance of DNA databases.

• Fully revised and updated new edition of this highly successful textbook.

• Includes self-assessment questions at the end of each chapter and case studies.

• Now in full colour throughout.

• Includes a supplementary website ( covering additional material and self-test questions to reinforce student understanding.

From the reviews of the first edition:

"The author does an excellent job of demonstrating how biological science can, and does, contribute to legal investigations…" THE QUARTERLY REVIEW OF BIOLOGY

"…a super book …not a book that will languish on library shelves. Buy it!" JOURNAL OF BIOLOGICAL EDUCATION

"…naturalists and biologists will find much of interest within these books…new light on the application of their own specialism..." THE NATURALIST

"Overall, I give it my highest recommendation. I was unable to find a single paragraph that was no fascinating, despite being sad or gruesome at times." E-STREAMS

Related Resources





Chapter One: The decay, discovery and recovery of human bodies

The dead body

The stages of decomposition

Factors affecting the speed of decay

Discovery and recovery of human remains

Determining the age and provenance of skeletonized remains

Future developments

Chapter Two: Body fluids and waste products

Blood cells and blood typing

Methods for detecting blood

Confirming the presence of blood

Bloodstain pattern analysis

Artificial blood

Post mortem toxicological analysis of blood

Saliva and semen

Vitreous humor

Faeces and urine as forensic indicators

Future directions

Chapter Three: Molecular biology

The structure of DNA

DNA sampling

DNA profiling

Polymerase chain reaction

Short tandem repeat markers

Single nucleotide polymorphism markers

Determination of ethnicity

Determination of physical appearance

Determination of personality traits

Mobile element insertion polymorphisms

Mitochondrial DNA


DNA databases

Future developments

Chapter Four: Human tissues

The outer body surface




Future developments

Chapter Five: Wounds


Blunt force injuries

Sharp force traumas

Bone damage

Additional aspects of wound interpretation


Pathology associated with drug use

Gunshot wounds

Bite marks

Burns and scalds

Ageing of wounds

Post mortem injuries

Future developments


Chapter Six: Invertebrates 1: biological aspects

An introduction to invertebrate biology

Invertebrates as forensic indicators in cases of murder or suspicious death

Invertebrates as a cause of death

Invertebrates as forensic indicators in cases of neglect and animal welfare

The role of invertebrates in food spoilage and hygiene litigation

The illegal trade in invertebrates

Invertebrate identification techniques

Future directions

Chapter Seven: Invertebrates 2: practical aspects

Calculating the PMI/time since infestation from invertebrate development rates

Complicating factors affecting earliest oviposition date calculations

Determination of the PMI using invertebrate species composition

Determination of the PMI using ectoparasites

Determination of movement from invertebrate evidence

Invertebrate evidence in cases of wound myiasis and neglect

Detection of drugs, toxins and other chemicals in invertebrates

Obtaining human/vertebrate DNA evidence from invertebrates 

Determining the source and duration of invertebrate infestations of food products

Collecting invertebrates for forensic analysis

Killing and preserving techniques for invertebrates

Future directions

Chapter Eight: Vertebrates


Vertebrate scavenging of human corpses

Vertebrates causing death and injury

Neglect and abuse of vertebrates

Vertebrates and drugs

Vertebrates and food hygiene

Illegal trade and killing of protected species of vertebrates

Identification of vertebrates

Future directions


Chapter Nine: Protists, fungi and plants





Plant secondary metabolites as sources of drugs and poisons

Illegal trade in protected plant species

Future directions

Chapter Ten: Bacteria and viruses


The role of microorganisms in the decomposition process

Microbial profiles as identification tools

Microbial infections and human behaviour

Microbial infections that can be mistaken for signs of criminal activity

The use of microorganisms in bioterrorism

Future directions



  • Includes a range of important key case studies new to this edition in which the difficulties of evaluating biological evidence are highlighted.


  • Two new separate chapters on ‘The Forensic Examination of Human Tissues’ and ‘Forensic Examination of Wounds’ including new section on pathology of strangulation and drug addiction


  • Now in full colour throughout
"Throughout the book there are many excellent diagrams and charts. The book is also very well illustrated with colour photographs to explain and expound the given subject. The collation of these photographs must have been in itself a mammoth task." (Rob Jerrard, May 2010)

"If it is entomology you are interested in, this is the book for you." (Australian Biochemist, April 2010)

"Gunn presents an introductory textbook on the application of biological science in legal investigations." (Book News, September 2009)

"This book is a must go for anyone, who either wishes to pursue a career in Biological Forensic discipline or simply has a general interest and would like to develop a general understanding." (The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences, May 2016)

  • Each chapter includes self-assessment quizzes and a series of questions and topics for further study to enhance student understanding.


  • Supported by a website covering forensic entomology and additional material that includes interactive MCQs to test student understanding and animations to reinforce key concepts explored within the text.


  • Now in full colour throughout