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Three different types of daises grew in the Anasazi site that was looted over the summer: X. confertifolia, X. tortifolia, and X. cronquistii. Outwardly, they all appear similar. X. tortifolia and X. confertifolia have single, but distinct forms of the “compositase” protein that could be used to distinguish them all. X. confertifolia appeared to be a hybrid of the two aforementioned types. X. cronquistii has whitish stems that are villous at the nodes and subshrubs that form round clumps. It is extremely rare, found only in a few sites in the Southwest. In this case, it was found in a very small region in southern Utah. Each of the different daises have specific soil preferences. X. tortifolia and X. cronquistii prefer gray shale soils near the bottoms of washes. X. confertifolia grows on brown clay soils on mesa tops and in washes where eroded brown clay soils appear. X. cronquistii’s regional geography is mainly distributed around the four corners (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona). Mr. Anderson claims he found the pot around a shed outside of Johnson Mine Propety, which is one mile east of the Gray Wash area where the plants were looted. Although the shed gives him proximity to the looting site, he is a part owner, so it may just be circumstantial evidence tying him to the site. Given morphology evidence alone, I do not think Mr. Anderson is guilty. Although the daisy in the pot may resemble the looted ones, I do not think there is evidence compelling enough to place Mr. Anderson in the Anasazi site.
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In order to distinguish between the daises, proteins from all three were examined using starch gel electrophoresis. Gel electrophoresis is a useful technique to separate molecules, like proteins, based on their size and charge. This process uses electric currents; one side of the gel has a negative charge and another has a positive charge. Repelled by the negative charge, molecules will move through the gel toward the positive charge. Once placed into the gel, the molecules will travel through it in different directions and speeds, allowing them to be separated from one another.
Using gel electrophoresis, scientists learned that each daisy has two copies of the gene for the “compositase” protein. Each of the parental daises has two identical copies of the gene, thus resulting in only one variety of the “compositase” protein from those genes. X. cronquistii makes both sorts of proteins and shows two bands on the protein gel. The protein analysis revealed that the X. cronquistii found in the pot could not have grown around the shed where Mr. Anderson claims he found it. The brown clay soil around the Johnson Mine only support the growth of X. confertifolia, not X. tortifolia or X. cronquistii.
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Based on both molecular and physical evidence, I now believe Mr. Anderson is guilty. Although I initially thought the shed’s proximity to the looting site was purely circumstantial evidence, the protein analysis convinced me that Mr. Anderson went out of his way to loot the X. cronquistii flowers that could not have grown near his shed because of soil incompatibility. The brown silty clay found on Mr. Anderson’s tires may have matched those around his shed, but I believe he drove to the Gray Wash site to loot the X. cronquistii flowers. I believe the tires were not covered in the gray shale soils because he went down to retrieve the plant on foot. The molecular evidence certainly strengthened the prosecution’s case.