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Australian police and researchers are developing a ground-breaking test that will help them identify suspects based on the DNA evidence they leave behind.

It is set to change the way police use DNA evidence. Officers may soon be able to use a single strand of hair from a crime scene to pinpoint whether a suspect has a cleft chin, how many moles they have and whether or not they are bald

The University of Canberra’s Dennis McNevin is working on the four-year project set to finish at the end of next year and called ”From Genotype to Phenotype: Molecular Photofitting”, with Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. He said Australian police now used DNA evidence to link an existing suspect to a crime scene, but eventually research might lead to their using DNA to create photofit images of potential suspects.

Dr Dennis McNevin is part of a team developing DNA tests that can draw exact pictures of suspects. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Victoria Police forensic officer Runa Daniel, who is working on the project with her colleague Roland van Oorschot, said the research could be used in the absence of other leads or to supplement eyewitness statements.

”DNA phenotyping may provide more accurate information on some characteristics and could be used to direct valuable police and forensic resources in the primary and critical stages of an investigation, particularly when traditional DNA profiling techniques have not been informative,” she said.

Fantasy Lingerie

Dr McNevin said there were DNA tests to determine hair and eye colour, but this new research was working towards pinpointing other distinctive features, including ear lobes attached to a person’s face and their bio-geographic ancestry, and the team was already fairly confident in identifying male pattern baldness.

”There are situations commonly encountered where there are no suspects, or there is a very large pool of suspects, and it becomes unfeasible to collect a reference DNA sample from what could be hundreds of different suspects … this is where we might want to collect intelligence value from that DNA,” he said.

DNA testing could identify if a person was from a broadly European, Asian or African background and Dr McNevin said he hoped to add Oceanic, indigenous American and perhaps others to that list by the end of next year.

He said it would not be long before a DNA sample could be used to fairly accurately determine a person’s bio-geographic ancestry, so in a case similar to the recent Boston Marathon bombings, a tiny sample might identify the suspects as, say, Chechen.

Queensland Institute of Medical Research scientists are examining the whole genome of individuals, using twin studies to find which pieces of DNA were associated with certain physical characteristics.

At the University of Canberra, researchers are using that information to develop predictive algorithms to determine the physical appearance of a person and to create a test that police could use in their laboratories.

Wild Secrets



It’s generally understood that driving while under the influence of many substances can greatly increase the chance of getting in an accident. As such, it’s common for police officers to use a breathalyzer to check someone’s blood alcohol content, to ensure that they aren’t impaired. Unfortunately, alcohol is one of the only substances that they can check for, and receive immediate results. But that looks to be changing soon.

A company called Intelligent Fingerprinting has just unveiled a prototype hand-held drug testing device that can provide officers with immediate results. The company hasn’t released information on exactly what substances are they are able to test for, but we do know that the process involves little more than having your fingerprint scanned by the device. We should know more when the device is put into production sometime next year.

Researchers able to lift fingerprints from clothing

By Paul Ridden

07:29 February 2, 2011

Promising early results from research undertaken by the University of Abertay Dundee and the Scottish Police Services Authority could lead to fingerprint evidence being obtained from clothing, for use in criminal prosecution. Refining an existing technique that’s been used to successfully recover print detail from smooth objects such as glass and plastic, forensic scientists have managed to create a kind of photo negative of fingerprint impressions on fabric. It’s a bit hit and miss at the moment, but even when clear ridge detail isn’t retrieved, the technique could still prove useful to investigators looking for other evidence.

The researchers used a method known as vacuum metal deposition that’s already been used to recover print detail on smooth surfaces like carrier bags, plastics and glass since the 1970s, but has not previously been applied to fingerprint detection on fabrics.

The fabric is placed in a vacuum chamber. Gold is heated and evaporated and spread in a fine layer over the fabric. Heated zinc is then applied, which attaches to the gold layer where the fabric has no fingerprints, leaving the original fabric to show through where contact has been made.

“One way of explaining it is like a photographic negative, where colors show up as their opposites,” said Abertay University‘s forensic sciences teacher and researcher Joanna Fraser. “Here the fingerprint ridges show through as clear fabric, but where there are no ridges we see the distinctive gray color of the metal. Previously it had proved difficult to reveal a clear fingerprint on fabric, but we’ve shown that this is now possible. This is great, but the challenge is to develop this further and confirm its effectiveness.”

The success rate for recovery is still quite low, with only around 20 percent of the public said to consistently leave good ridge detail or indicate target areas for DNA collection due to the presence of sweat. Folks who have drier skin prove to be poor donors, but the technique could still lead investigators to target areas of clothing for DNA procurement and may reveal other useful facts, such as the shape of a hand or an indication of whether a victim was pushed or grabbed.

Paul Deacon, fingerprint unit manager at the Scottish Police Services Authority, said that “an impression of a palm print on the back of someone’s shirt might indicate they were pushed off a balcony, rather than jumping.”

“The research is still in its early stages but we are starting to see results,” he continued. “We have shown that fabrics with a high thread count are best for revealing a print and have recovered identifiable fingerprints on a number of fabrics including silk, nylon and polyester.”

The research paper entitled Visualisation of fingermarks and grab impressions on fabrics. Part 1: Gold/zinc vacuum metal deposition has now been published in Forensic Science International.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha 


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