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01.03.2012 | Technical Note | Ausgabe 2/2012

International Journal of Legal Medicine 2/2012

Application of direct PCR in a forensic case of yew poisoning

International Journal of Legal Medicine > Ausgabe 2/2012
Christian Gausterer, Christina Stein, Thomas Stimpfl
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s00414-011-0607-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


Intoxications with yew (Taxus spp.) pose a challenge to forensic toxicology because a variety of Taxus ingredients have been associated with its toxic effects. To provide preliminary evidence in cases where plant material is available, we introduce a novel direct PCR assay for the detection of DNA traces from Taxus spp. This assay has been successfully applied to a forensic case of suicidal poisoning via ingestion of Taxus leaves. PCR primers were designed to target a sequence located in the internal transcribed spacer 1 (ITS1) of nuclear ribosomal DNA, which is well conserved among species of the genus Taxus and can, therefore, be exploited to discriminate between Taxus and other conifers. Because ITS1 exists as a multicopy sequence within the plant genome, the assay provides enough sensitivity to work with trace amounts that are below the DNA content of a single cell. Specificity of the assay was tested with DNA extracts from Taxaceae and selected representatives from other related plant families (Cephalotaxaceae, Cupressaceae and Pinaceae). When combined with the commercial Phire® Plant Direct PCR Kit (Finnzymes), the primers allowed application of a two-step cycling protocol (without the annealing step), and because direct PCR requires only little sample pre-treatment, results from PCR could be obtained within 1.5 h after analysis had begun. Direct PCR was performed with diluted gastric content from the forensic case. Amplification products of the expected size were purified and sequenced. Sequence data were subjected to Basic Local Alignment Search Tool analysis and affiliated with ITS1 from Taxus spp.

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