Wouldn’t it be nice if DNA wasn’t absolutely necessary in identifying a person-at least initially? Perhaps fingerprints are overrated and take too long to examine. What if the mere germs (microbes) on your skin could point fingers at the guilty person (s)? It’s possible, and now research has opened this avenue of forensic profiling wide open.
Each individual has unique microbes individualized by their body’s chemistry, where they have been, who they have touched, and the skin products that they use, to name a few. Even if a surface has not been touched in two weeks, the microbes are still evident where the individual made contact, states this research. It can be readily recovered from any surface and has a high degree of accuracy of differentiating who had touched that surface last. Moreover, these microbes are also more diverse and individualistic even when compared to other individuals’ microbes within the same relation or living together.
Research proving this theory was executed by swabbing computer keyboards, mouse, mouse pads, and other frequently used office machines. Compared to the bacterial DNA of objects not touched by the participants, researchers were able to identify the objects that had been touched by those participants with pinpoint accuracy (90% accuracy according to this site).
This could be pivotal in forensic applications in the field. Once this forensic tool is applied, then more expensive, time consuming procedures like fingerprinting and DNA samples can be collected and compared. During the six or so weeks that the results are being waited upon, the likely suspect fingered in the microbe analysis can sit in jail and flee the area or country.
The best news is that even with rigorous and detailed hand washing, these microbes can not be eliminated by a person’s hands. As stated earlier, a person’s microbes can live heartily for up to two weeks after the person’s contact with an object.
While still in the preliminary or early stages of forensic technology, studying individual’s microbe DNA is exciting. Even when microbes are frozen, at a minus four degrees Fahrenheit, the microbes DNA is not the least bit changed, says this study.
Often times there will not be enough DNA left at a crime scene to convict the suspect. With the accuracy of microbial DNA, which is expected to increase further from the already impressive 90% as technology improves, law enforcement will now have a new arsenal to convict criminals with.
Fingerprints can smudge, or accidently be tampered with or destroyed. Crafty criminals can burn their fingertips to evade detection and identification. But, microbial DNA is hearty and can live under extreme temperatures and in extreme environmental conditions that would otherwise destroy other forensic evidence.
If one is concerned about close matched microbial DNA, not to worry. Only 13%, says this research, of microbial DNA overlap with other people’s microbial DNA. Even so, with further analysis, the two can be differentiated-much like ancestral DNA, or with DNA of twins.
The take away message is this. Even if you are the cleanest person alive, what you leave behind isn’t just the scent of your perfume or cologne (or the 4 burritos you just ate!). You also leave behind a very detailed microbial map of everywhere you have been, who or what you have been in contact with, and your body’s unique chemical makeup. Who knew?