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Forensic uses of plants

Dr Michael Keith-Lucas kept an audience at Hedgecroft enthralled for an hour on his talk about the forensic uses of pollen. Michael is an Honorary Fellow and Consultant in Plant Sciences at the University of Reading. His research interests cover pollen in vegetation history, archaeology, allergy, and forensic science; as well as plant ecology, including tropical rainforest ecology. In addition he is Chairman of the local region of the Institute of Biology, the Wildlife Trust and Reading and District Gardeners. He has worked on pollen in vegetation history, archaeology, medicine and in honey, as well as in forensic science.

Most of us are aware of pollen, because it may stain our clothes or cause miserable allergenic reactions such as hayfever. The word pollen is from Latin and means fine dust or flour. If we look at pollen grains down a powerful microscope, we enter a fantastic world where, although small is beautiful, use far outweighs ornament. We were shown many fine examples during the talk.

Michael studied as a botanist and explained how he transferred his knowledge of botany to solving crimes. By taking samples of pollen from either a criminals or victims nose, shoes or even from their clothes it is possible to not only identify what type the pollen is, but also to know where it is has come from locally. It is also possible in some instances to know what date it was released as certain pollen is only released at certain times of the month. Other pollen is only released in the morning and some later in the day, so it is entirely possible to identify, very accurately, where and when a person had been and could give enough evidence to solve a crime. Examples were given of solving murders. and in one instance who was responsible for a bomb!

Dr. Michael Keith-Lucas concluded his talk by explaining how pollen identification in honey could reveal its quality by proving the honey had come from the area it was claimed to be from, thus revealing scam imports.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and we were sorry to learn that Michael was soon to move to Cheltenham, so this may be one of his last talks with us. We wish him well for the future.

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