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The new SYFY show “Resident Alien,” about an extraterrestrial being trying to pass himself off as a human, combines science fiction and dark comedy, but it also incorporates some true crime elements, including the use of DNA technology, that are anything but farfetched.
Show spoilers below:
When the titular alien, played by Alan Tudyk, crash lands in tiny Patience, Colorado, he doesn't arrive in human form. Instead, the monstrous-looking creature murders a small-town doctor named Harry Vanderspeigle at his lakeside home, tossing him into an icy lake, and then takes over Harry's form. In the show's third episode, the new, alien version of Harry means to fish it out before anyone else finds it, but before he can, a fisherman ends up stumbling upon a dismembered foot that Deputy Liv Baker, played by Elizabeth Bowen, theorizes was likely severed from the body by a boat propeller. And then, of course, alien Harry is called upon to help investigate the mysterious death, along with other cases. Whoops.
After the discovery of the foot, Baker jokingly muses to alien Harry that it looks like it could belong to him. He nervously laughs it off, but, as true crime fans know only too well, DNA could very well prove that her joke is bizarrely on the money.
Baker tells him she's hopeful the medical examiner will get a hit on the DNA sample taken from severed extremity.
“There’s a chance that there won’t be, but with so many people in the database these days, all those ancestry testing kits,” she says.
While attempting to showcase just how wonderful the technology is, the conversation takes a surprising but comical turn as she explains how an ancestry kit broke up her family; She found out her real dad is her dad’s best friend. She then muses that people should never take such tests.
Jokes aside, such ancestry tests have indeed been revealing juicy family secrets in recent years, but more than that, they've been helping assist in some very serious cases. For some, they're critical to giving names back to unidentified victims and providing closure, and perhaps justice, to their families.
For example, just recently, one young girl found dead in 1982 got her name back after decades of being known only as "Delta Dawn." The 2-year-old, who was discovered floating in a Mississippi river, was revealed to be Alisha Ann Henrich. She and her mother Gwendolyn Clemons had vanished the same year the child’s body was found. A good Samaritan, who grew up in neighboring Alabama and remembered watching news stories about the case as a child, funded the research effort and a private lab did the research. The lab, with the assistance of local and federal authorities, was able to provide a genetic profile suitable for genealogical research. In doing so, they were able to find a relative of the child, and then positively identify the remains.
Investigators hope to do the same with thousands of unidentified remains as each year more than 4,000 unidentified remains are discovered in the United States. As of now, there is a constantly swelling list of more than 40,000 unidentified bodies known as John, Jane, or Baby Doe cases.
“The Jane Doe Murders,” a series which airs on Oxygen, dives into the world of identifying Jane Does through DNA and genetic research. In it, retired crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary works with certified genealogist Charles McGee in their hunt find the true identity of a Jane Doe whose remains were found in Oregon decades ago.
McGee told Oxygen.com in a 2020 interview that when it comes to identifying human remains, DNA is first extracted and synthesized in a laboratory. From there, the DNA profile is uploaded to an open-source database, so that researchers can look to find someone with a similar profile. Genealogy website GEDmatch is a database commonly used for comparisons; the company allows law enforcement to use its data to identify remains.
While more than a million people have opted in to share their profiles on GEDmatch with law enforcement, finding exact matches is still very rare. Therefore, researchers seek to find more distant matches with relatives. Genealogists use a unit of measure called centimorgans, which determine how closely people are linked genetically, to try to determine distant possible matches. From there, they create traditional family trees to make connections and narrow their searches.
So, while Harry hopes that DNA technology won't blow his extraterrestrial secret, many families and investigators alike rely on its continued use to give thousands of unknown victims not only their names back, but also a shot at justice.
The third episode of SYFY's "Resident Alien" — titled "Secrets" — is now totally free to stream on SYFY.com, on the SYFY app, and on VOD. This means that you can be among the first to binge the very next entry before its official network airdate of Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 10 p.m. EST. (It will be available to stream for 30 days, through March 5.)
In fact, viewers can currently access the first three installments, making it easier than ever to check out the brand-new TV series from creator Chris Sheridan (a veteran of Family Guy). In addition, Episodes 1 and 2 ("Pilot" and "Homesick") can also be viewed for free on the official SYFY YouTube channel (those will be available through Feb. 17).
Meanwhile, viewers with cable subscriptions can watch the first three episodes starting Feb. 4 via On Demand, OneApp, Apple TV, or Roku.
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