Jodie Ward is the Director of the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER) and an Associate Professor in the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Technology Sydney. In addition, she is the Forensic DNA Identification Specialist for the Forensic & Analytical Science Service (FASS) at NSW Health Pathology, specialising in the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA testing of compromised human remains. This unique Joint Appointment sees her lead the research, development and application of forensic human identification techniques for missing persons casework in Australia; an endeavour she is most passionate about.
Jodie has been involved in the field of biological criminalistics for over 15 years, and is considered an international expert, thought leader and media spokesperson for the DNA-based identification of missing persons. Prior to her Joint Appointment, she was the Team Leader of the Specialist DNA Laboratory at FASS. She is also an expert in mitochondrial DNA testing, and provides expert evidence for both criminal and coronial cases. Previously, she has held operational forensic roles with both the NSW Police Force and the Australian Federal Police, and academic roles with the National Centre for Forensic Studies.
One of her career highlights includes being awarded a prestigious 2015 Churchill Fellowship to investigate world-leading DNA identification techniques for missing persons and disaster victims. Following her Fellowship, she has devised, published and promoted a number of international best-practice recommendations for the establishment of an Australian Centre for Forensic Human Identification. This culminated in a TEDx talk, where she described her journey as a forensic humanitarian championing the introduction of a national DNA program to resolve Australia’s unidentified and missing person cold cases.
Dr Ward was recognised as one of Science and Technology Australia’s 2017 Superstars of STEM and Australian Financial Review’s 2018 100 Women of Influence for pioneering a specialist DNA identification facility in NSW. This unique capability is now being used nationally by the police and armed forces to assist with the genetic identification of both modern and historical human remains. Her dedication to increase awareness, generate support and drive change for missing persons has seen her be invited to be a Board Member for the Missing Persons Advocacy Network charity.
Dr Ward obtained a PhD in forensic molecular biology from the Australian National University, and has postgraduate qualifications in management and higher education. She is a member of the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences, International Society of Forensic Genetics, and a committee member of the NSW Branch of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society.
2015 - Churchill Fellowship (Winston Churchill Memorial Trust)
2017 - Superstar of STEM (Science and Technology Australia)
2018 - 100 Women of Influence (Australian Financial Review)
Australian Academy of Forensic Science
Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society
International Society for Forensic Genetics
International Academy of Legal Medicine
Committee Member - NSW Branch, Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society
Board Member - Missing Persons Advocacy Network
2018 - TEDxBlighStreet Talk
Can supervise: YES
Interdisciplinary approaches for forensic human identification
Application of novel DNA technologies for missing persons casework and disaster victim identification
Improving DNA-based identification of compromised and historical human remains
Massively parallel sequencing applications for forensic casework
DNA intelligence applications for forensic casework
Mitochondrial DNA profiling
DNA identification of non-human (plant and animal) evidence
Forensic DNA Profiling
Forensic Human Identification
Disaster Victim Identification
Watherston, J, Bruce, D, Ward, J, Gahan, ME & McNevin, D 2019, 'Automating direct-to-PCR for disaster victim identification', Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol. 51, no. S1, pp. S39-S43.View/Download from: Publisher's site
© 2019, © 2019 Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences. Direct-to-PCR methodology adds samples directly to PCR tubes offering gains in efficiency and sensitivity. The approach has been applied to a variety of biological sources including blood, saliva, tissue, hair and nail. We added various preservative solutions to a range of biological samples to leech DNA into solution, whilst preserving at room temperature. Tubes containing 'free DNA' then followed automated workflows for amplification and capillary electrophoresis. Routine FASS-automated workflows (including DNA extraction and quantification) were compared with published direct-to-PCR methodology and automated amplification of an aliquot of preservative solution. Applying preservative solutions to ~30-year-old blood stains stored at room temperature resulted in recovery of a larger quantity of DNA and more alleles (using PowerPlex 21) when compared with routine automated typing. Trials were extended to blood, saliva, hair and nail, mimicking ante-mortem samples collected in a disaster victim identification effort. Despite slightly lower allelic recovery, the faster processing times, lower costs and storage potential offers advantages for the processing of ante-mortem samples.
Ward, J, Johnson, RN & Wilson-Wilde, L 2019, 'Gender equity: how do the forensic sciences fare?', Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol. 51, no. sup1, pp. S263-S267.View/Download from: Publisher's site
© 2019, © Crown Copyright in the Commonwealth of Australia 2019. NSW Health Pathology. Females are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at all levels of society. Fewer females are completing STEM school subjects, graduating with STEM degrees, being employed as STEM professionals, and holding senior leadership and academic positions in STEM. However, unlike almost every other STEM discipline, the overall ratio of females is higher in many forensic science disciplines. For our sector, rather than having difficulty in attracting females, the bigger issue is how we retain and promote female talent. This complex issue is exacerbated by: gender pay gaps; family role expectations; lack of visible role models or mentors; discrimination and harassment; and bias during recruitment and promotion practices. We discuss barriers relevant for women in the forensic industry and offer potential solutions. These include flexible work arrangements, sponsorship programmes, and fostering and practising an inclusive workplace culture. Gender equity programmes and exemplar STEM organizations focused on a commitment to gender parity will be explored. Harnessing untapped female talent is as much a social justice issue as employing best practices for improving the quality, diversity and output of our forensic science workforce, and research and innovation strategies.
Watherston, J, McNevin, D, Gahan, ME, Bruce, D & Ward, J 2018, 'Current and emerging tools for the recovery of genetic information from post mortem samples: New directions for disaster victim identification.', Forensic science international. Genetics, vol. 37, pp. 270-282.View/Download from: Publisher's site
DNA profiling has emerged as the gold standard for the identification of victims in mass disaster events providing an ability to identify victims, reassociate remains and provide investigative leads at a relatively low cost, and with a high degree of discrimination. For the majority of samples, DNA-based identification can be achieved in a fast, streamlined and high-throughput manner. However, a large number of remains will be extremely compromised, characteristic of mass disasters. Advances in technology and in the field of forensic biology have increased the options for the collection, sampling, preservation and processing of samples for DNA profiling. Furthermore, recent developments now allow a vast array of new genetic markers and genotyping techniques to extract as much genetic information from a sample as possible, ensuring that identification is not only accurate but also possible where material is degraded, or limited. Where historically DNA profiling has involved comparison with ante mortem samples or relatives, now DNA profiling can direct investigators towards putative victims or relatives, for comparison through the determination of externally visible characteristics, or biogeographical ancestry. This paper reviews the current and emerging tools available for maximising the recovery of genetic information from post mortem samples in a disaster victim identification context.
Ward, J 2018, 'The past, present and future state of missing persons investigations in Australia', AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF FORENSIC SCIENCES, vol. 50, no. 6, pp. 708-722.View/Download from: Publisher's site
Ward, J 2017, 'Best practice recommendations for the establishment of a national DNA identification program for missing persons: A global perspective', Forensic Science International: Genetics Supplement Series, vol. 6, pp. e43-e45.View/Download from: Publisher's site
© 2017 I was awarded a 2015 Churchill Fellowship to visit international laboratories which have specialisation in the DNA identification of unidentified human remains (UHR), applied new technologies to DNA identification casework including the massively parallel sequencing (MPS) of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and forensic DNA phenotyping markers, and established successful DNA-led identification programs for missing persons (MP) casework or disaster victim identification. The goal of the Fellowship was to improve the DNA profiling outcomes for the 500+ cases of UHR in Australia, explore new technologies or DNA markers which could aid the identification effort in the absence of other investigative leads, and devise recommendations for the establishment of a DNA identification program for the 2000+ long-term MP in Australia. Despite DNA being used worldwide to successfully identify large numbers of MP resulting from armed conflicts, human rights abuses and natural or man-made disasters, the cost, labour and success rate of using DNA for routinely identifying compromised UHR has historically been prohibitive for many countries, resulting in current backlogs of identification casework. The introduction of a nationally coordinated DNA testing program, and adoption of DNA technological advancements, will facilitate the effective and efficient identification of a country's unknown and missing citizens thus bringing closure to potentially large numbers of missing person and criminal cold cases. I will translate key Fellowship findings into practical recommendations for the establishment of a national DNA identification program based on international best practice that will be applicable for any country considering implementing a DNA-led MP program.
Ward, J, Gilmore, SR, Robertson, J & Peakall, R 2009, 'A Grass Molecular Identification System for Forensic Botany: A Critical Evaluation of the Strengths and Limitations', JOURNAL OF FORENSIC SCIENCES, vol. 54, no. 6, pp. 1254-1260.View/Download from: Publisher's site
University of Wollongong
University of Sydney
Australian National University
Australian Federal Police
University of Canberra
National Centre for Forensic Studies
University of New England
NSW Health Pathology
Australia's Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
NSW Police Force
Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine
Western Sydney University
Central Queensland University
Department of Defence Science and Technology
Other Australian Partners:
University of Adelaide