13 March 2006: The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has hired Thomas J. Parsons, formerly Chief Scientist at the U.S. Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory, as Director of its Forensic Sciences Department. Dr. Parsons took up his post at ICMP’s Sarajevo headquarters on March 1, 2006. He replaces Dr. Mark Skinner, who has returned to his post as professor at the Archaeology Department of Simon Fraser University in Canada.Dr. Parsons had worked at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL) since August of 1994 and had held the position of AFDIL Chief Scientist since 2000. One of his primary roles there was to direct the AFDIL Research Section. He is also an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Genetics and the Department of Forensic Sciences at the George Washington University. His primary specialization is in forensic DNA applications and basic molecular genetics.
Dr. Parsons has served on the Scientific Advisory Board of the ICMP since 2000, and in 2005 was appointed Chairman of the ICMP Steering Committee on Forensic Sciences. Since September 2001, he has served on a (U.S.) National Institute of Justice expert advisory panel for the World Trade Center DNA identification efforts, and is currently a member of the expert panel advising on DNA identification for the hurricane Katrina disaster.
“My experience at AFDIL and my involvement with the World Trade Center identification project have given me a strong appreciation for the importance of combining both ‘traditional’ and DNA methods in an optimal approach to forensic identification. I am excited about being a part of ICMP’s unique mission and unique capabilities in its integrated “grave to grave” forensic identification process,” said Dr. Parsons when he took up his post at ICMP.
His undergraduate degree was in Physics from the University of Chicago, and he received a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Washington in 1989. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and during a research faculty appointment at the University of Nebraska, he focused on molecular evolution and population genetics. These basic science areas of population genetic variation and DNA evolution stand as the foundation for the applied science of modern forensic genetics.
Over the past 5 years, Dr. Parson’s work has received particular attention following publications he has written relating to an unexpectedly high mutation rate in human mitochondrial DNA, with substantial implications for both forensics and molecular anthropology, as well as for his papers relating to the identification of Tsar Nicholas II and his family; the establishment of very large DNA population databases; and collaboration on forensic testing of the putative skull of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
“I left an excellent job and my home in the United States to join ICMP because I have the utmost regard for the people, the mission, and the capabilities of the organization. Everyone who works at ICMP is a part of something unique, built up from the ground in the service of others who are in need,” said Dr. Parsons, who is married with two sons. His family will be joining him to live in Sarajevo in April.