The human body is covered in billions of bacterial and fungal cells — collectively, microbial cells — that leave a “microbial fingerprint” on objects that are touched.
Researchers have established that this transfer can associate objects with individual people, and that the microbial signatures are generally stable within a person, raising the potential that microbial fingerprints could provide important physical evidence.
However, several important barriers prevent the use of such evidence, according to UCSD.
The grant, awarded by the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, will help researchers answer crucial questions, such as how long a person’s microbial signature remains on an object; whether the type of surface matters; how much contact is required to leave a microbial trace on an object; whether repeated touches by the same person reinforce or obscure the microbial patterns; what happens when multiple people touch the same object and microbial cells are mixed; and how death might alter a person’s microbial evidence, since microbes in the skin change after death.
A two-year, five-phase research project brings together the expertise of scientists at UCSD, University of Colorado, Argonne National Laboratory, Chaminade University of Honolulu and the City and County of Honolulu Department of the Medical Examiner.
The results will be disseminated through academic presentations, workshops, scientific articles and a video aimed at educating both forensic investigators and members of the public about the potential for use of microbial DNA evidence.
—City News Service
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