JEOL mass spectrometers are widely used by forensic investigators – in science centers, government agencies, and now, a mobile crime lab. On November 3rd, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab
revealed “The Woodshed” a mobile forensic laboratory
built to identify illegal timber milled from endangered species of trees around the world and brought into the US at ports of entry.
The US is one of 150 countries who have signed the United Nation’s CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), an international treaty governing the illegal trade in products (including timber) from endangered species. In support of this mission, this forensic lab will combat the illegal timber market by identifying and comparing physical evidence to link suspect, victim, and crime scene.
A Backlog of Forensic Evidence
Smugglers try to sneak CITES-protected wood past customs officials by labeling it as non-protected. Customs agents rely on this documentation, only sending samples to be examined if there’s probable cause. Illegal wood can enter the consumer marketplace in a variety of forms – for example, incense made from agarwood, one of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world, or musical instruments made from endangered Brazilian rosewood.
Because of the volume of smuggled goods, backlogs of cargo containers await inspection at ports of entry until the wood can be inspected for illegally traded timber. The “Woodshed” addresses this backlog by taking the laboratory directly to the ports, eliminating delays associated with collecting and shipping samples from the port to a central laboratory.
The search and collection of rare species of wood for these goods affects whole ecosystems and the living creatures that depend on them, leading to forest degradation. Consumers can unknowingly become part of these schemes – like in 2015 when Lumber Liquidators
agreed to pay $13 million for illegally sourcing their hardwood from Russia. Forensic labs like the US Fish and Wildlife Mobile Lab help identify these bad actors, ultimately protecting endangered species of timber
Direct Analysis in Real Time with JEOL DART
Scientists in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab rely on forensic methods like morphology, DNA analysis, and chemical analysis to verify what species the sample is from and determine its origin. DNA analysis is highly specific, but it is expensive and takes time. Furthermore, DNA data is not available for all of the CITES-protected species. Identification by morphology is rapid and inexpensive but requires skilled wood anatomists to distinguish between some key species.
AccuTOFTM DART® is an essential tool in this effort because of its near-instantaneous analysis and high specificity. JEOL’s DART relies on ambient ionization, a technology that enables real-time open-air analysis, to analyze samples with little or no preparation. The unique chemical composition of each wood species can be identified by passing the sample between the DART ion source and the AccuTOF mass spectrometer inlet. Scientists can identify the species of wood by searching the
ForeST (Forensic Spectra of Trees) database compiled and distributed by the US Fish and Wildlife Lab.
Because it will analyze virtually anything put in front of its ion source, the AccuTOF™-DART is a fast and efficient way to achieve comprehensive chemical analysis and identify evidence. The AccuTOF-DART has gained widespread use at leading forensics labs.
To learn more about the mobile forensic lab, visit the U.S. National Fish and Wildlife website
or our press release on its launch
. To learn more about the instrument, visit the product page