PartI: Plants in Crime
Theuse of plants in forensic science
Dataretrieved from a crime scene can only be made useful when forensicanalysis is performed. However, there are instances where theinvestigation of crime is marred by loose ends either by “missing”evidence, lack of evidence or evidence that is tampered. Such likeinstances prompt the digging of evidence from sources that wouldotherwise seem useless as components that would assist in buildingcases related to homicide or incidents associated with traffic aswell as other events. It is critical to note the strides that sciencehas taken in forensic investigation and the newest component of theblock that is assisting with such like investigations, is the use ofbotany. The use of botanical evidence in a criminal investigation isbecoming popular by the day, and it has been applied in countrieslike the US, Taiwan, UK, just to mention a few. The science offorensic botany is slowly emerging, and understanding of this trendin crime investigation is of critical importance. Plant evidencedisplayed in the court of law is deemed to be legal and so, theapplication of plants in forensic science may exist for quite a whilein the sector of criminal justice.
Forensic science takes note of subspecialties in botany, as presentedby Aquila et al., (2014). These botanical specialties include theareas of the anatomy of plant, limnology, ecology of plants andpalynology. It is these critical areas of study that shed more lightin the identification of aplant species in as far as its geographicalorigin is concerned. With the determination of the genesis of a plantspecies, its linkage to the crime scene can be established whiletaking note of the suspects and the alibis (Aquila et al.,2014).Evidence concerning plants, can aid in the ascertaining of thecause of death of an individual for instance and thus link suspectsto murders as noted by Thompson (2016). Plant material can also offerinsight into whether a crime scene is, in fact, the primary scene orit is one that indicates foul play i.e. indication of the possibilityof a crime scene to be a secondary site.
Forensicbotany is often backed by molecular biology techniques likepolymerase chain reaction (PCR) and bioinformatics in the building ofa case. Such techniques are applied in the instances where the plantmaterial identified in a crime scene is noted to be fragmented, andas a result, morphological analysis of the plant species becomesalmost impossible. It is critical to understand that the first everhomicide case that was solved using forensic botany incorporated DNAtypingwas as a result of a crime that took place back in 1992, asnoted by Aquila et al., (2014). On a similar line of thought to theabove occurrence, the use of plant remains in the investigation ofcriminal activities was introduced back in 1935 when Dr. Koehler usedfindings from wood anatomy to link a suspect to a kidnapping. Whatwould come to be known as one of the most historical cases of the20thCentury, paved the way for the legality of the usage of plantmaterial in a criminal investigation (Link- Perez, n.d).
Documentationis the first step that is performed after the identification of acrime scene. Given the fact that plant material in a forensicexamination is deemed to be legal in their application,the collectionof plant evidence, which is the next step, ought to be done in a verycareful manner. These evidence materials are often collected byeither a botanist or a law enforcement officer. The collection ofthis plant evidence ought to be done in the presence of otherofficers. Very stringent rules surround this kind of evidence and sotheir processing for establishing a case ought to be done almostimmediately after their collection (Dake, 2015). For futurereferences, the plant material can be preserved. The plant remainscan be stored in evidence lockers where they can be retrieved evenafter years of storage,having maintained their integrity.
Thereare case examples of when the plant evidence was used to fit thepuzzle of a crime scene investigation. These examples are drawn fromsuicide, homicide and traffic incidences, where a piece of a plantmaterial saw the conviction of suspects. One case example is where adiner was convicted for the death of another diner when a medicalpathologistused a piece of plant diet evidence which linked themurderer to the crime (Bock, 2013). The aforementioned is just but anexample of the usefulness of botany in forensic science. It is clearthat there is more to the application of botany in forensicinvestigations, which ought to be identified and maximally utilized.
Theuse of plants for criminal purposes
Plantshave also been noted to be used in for criminal reasons astoxicological agents or as biological weapons as pointed out byKhajja et al., (2012). The application of botanical extracts in crimeis particularly the case in some countries like Indiaindicate theirusagewas intended for causing harm. The poison in plants isattributed to functional groups like resins, alkaloids, glycosides,cannabinoids, polypeptide, amines, saponins, and oxalbumins (Dave andPatel, 2012). Some of the criminal activities that have been linkedto the use of extracts derived from toxic plants include killingintentions, intentions for causing injuries and reckless usage ofpoisonous plants. Other examples linked to the criminal usage ofplants include their application in crime facilitation, inducing anabortion, for annoyance and for throwing at the victim with theintention of harming (Khajja et al., 2012). The usage of plants likeCleistanthuscollinus,Daturametel, Strychnosnux –vomica,and Cerberaodollum,forexample, can be traced back to the civilization era where their usagein homicide, as well as suicidal activities, was very rampant (Khajjaet al., 2012). Assassinations that have occurred both in the past andthe present have been attributed to toxic plant materials with arecent example of Alexander Perepilichnyy, a Russian whistleblower,whose death was linked to poison from Gelsemiumelegans(Hines, 2015).
Insighton the phytotoxic extracts and their usage in homicide and suicideactivities is critical especially for forensic examiners. Informationon the phytotoxicity properties of plants can help in providingsolutions to crimes, which pertain to poisoning. In this regard, thetype of the plant, the crime spot and the symptoms that manifest areimperative in understanding whether the usage of the plant materialwas accidental, suicidal or homicidal.
PartII: Plants as international commodities
Plants are considered to be vital commodities in the global arena.Their importance dates back from the years before civilization wherethey were utilized in early trade activities. Early barter exchangesconfirm the fact that plants wereof economic importance. With themodification in agricultural activities in the present world,economic activities that pertain to plants have transformed to ahigher level. Globalization has brought with it new needs which meanthat plants, as international products, are utilized in modified waysas compared to their usage in the pre-civilization eras. Some of theplants that grace the global economic platform range from coffee,tea, cannabis, apples, peaches, sunflower seeds, coconuts, and maizejust to mention a few of the endless plant list.
Itis undoubtedly a fact that plants are imperative to human beings andthe animal world in general. Human beings, for instance, derive theirbasic needs namely food, shelter, and clothing, from plants and withthe transforming world, attributed to globalizations, the needs asmentioned earlier are increasing and being modified as well.Understanding the economic importance of this global commodity isparamount for activities that pertain to trade, medicine,horticulture, forestry, textiles, and so on. The economicsignificance of plants drawn from their parts is as follows.
Plants form a significant portion of both human and animal foodchain. Grains account for a considerable portion of staple foodsworldwide. Grains are drawn from seeds, and they are also the fruitcomponents of the grass family of plants. Maize, rice, and wheat arethe most common cereal grains which account for the biggest share offood production globally. Other grains include sorghum, millet,barley, and oats, just to mention a few. Some of the sourcespresented above classified as monocotyledonous flowering plants. Thedicotyledonous flowering plants give rise to products like fruitse.g. apples, roots (cassava), tubers (potatoes), leaves (kale andspinach), and seeds like peas and beans. These are also utilized indiet and may be grown for both subsistence and commercial use.
Plantsare also utilized in the vast industrial setting where they give riseto products that are traded in the global arena. Their utilization inthe industry is noted in the examples presented below.
Thetextile and paper industry is not left behind when addressing theeconomic importance of plants. Fiber is provided by plants, a productthat is formed when the phloem the stem part of dicot plants. Thefiber is derived from parts like the stem, leaves, fruits and plantsthat are herbaceous in nature. Examples of these fibers includesisal, cotton, coir, and nettle. In fact, nettle has high potentialin the textile industry given its vast application in making fiberslike silk which are utilized in the apparel industry (Bisht,Bhandari, and Bisht, 2012).Other fibers are used in the making of carpets, textile materials,and ropes. Other fibers are used in the making of paper while othersare used in making sheets of wood.
Someplants are grown for oil extraction purposes. The extracted oil mayfind use in cooking, as biofuels and as manufacturing constituent ofindustrial products and cosmetic/ personal care products (Antignac etal., 2011). In their application as biofuels, plants offer arenewable energy option which is of economic importance (Oldfield,2014).Plant examples that are utilized for oil extractionincludecotton seeds, sunflower seeds, maize, peanuts, and olives.
Plantsare the hearts of the horticulture and forestry industries. In thehorticulture industry, cultivation of flowers, shrubs and even grass,in gardens, resorts and parks are proving to be a thriving industry.Floral wealth, for instance, is considered to be an importanteconomic resource in South Africa for example, where maximization ofthe opportunities concerning plants is observed to be paramount(Reinten, Coetzee, and Van Wyk, 2011).
Lumber,derived from trees is utilized in the making of furniture that rangesfrom the cheapest and simplest ones to the sophisticated andexpensive ones. Floorings are also derived from lumber, which iscritical given the housing needs that are evident as countriesdevelop.
Thereare plants that are utilized for their pharmaceutical rolesbecauseof the properties that they possess. This attribute in plants datesback from many years ago because this usage began since the time ofthe Old Testament. The ethnomedicinal properties of plants have seenmanipulation in the pharmaceutical industry, and as a result,diseases have been contained using extracts drawn from theseorganisms (Awan, Jamal, and Khan, 2013). The utilization of plantmaterial in medicine has sparked the growth that is evident in thepharmaceutical sector where drug discovery from plant properties,using traditional knowledge continue to manifest. This property inplants is the subject matter for the complementary medicine that ispracticed by traditional doctors and herbalists, in the treatment ofdiseases (Sills et al., 2011). Plant extracts are also utilized inthe formulation of pesticides that are utilized in pest controlactivities.
Thecultivation of plants has resulted in the classification of plantsdubbed as "cash crops." Cash crop plantsare noted to havethe highest yield. On the one side, there is the aspect of the mostplanted crop and on the other there are those crops that are high inyield. High yield plants include sugarcane, sugar beet, and tomatoes.Plants that are low yieldingindicate that the product does have thecapability to make enough revenue given the product amount of theproduce in tons. The examples of plants that are considered to be lowyielding include rice, maize, and even wheatthis is so despite thefact that they are considered to be some of the most grown ones.Examples of high yielding plants that are legal include tomatoes,grapes, and even tobacco. There is also the list of plants that areconsidered to be very lucrative when in fact they are illegal insomecountries. In this regard, some of the most economicallylucrative plants include the opiates, cannabis, and coca (Desjardins,2014).
Theeconomic usage of plants cannot be quite exhausted given thediversities in functionalities that have been made possibleby them.Plants and their derivatives are important commodities in theinternational platform and they, in fact, account for exports andimports in trade. The economic utilization of plants in activitiesthat supplement the being of man has been in place and will continueto exist modifications in the plant use is what will determine howthey will be utilized in the international arena, in the future.
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