In an important breakthrough for the forensic science community, researchers have developed the first-ever biological identification method that exploits the information encoded in proteins of human hair.
Scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and a Utah startup company have developed the groundbreaking technique, providing a second science-based, statistically validated way to identify people and link individuals to evidence in addition to DNA profiling.
The new protein identification technique will offer another tool to law enforcement authorities for crime scene investigations and archaeologists, as the method has been able to detect protein in human hair more than 250 years old.
Aim to identify people using only one hair
Once the method is optimized, the researchers believe they could use protein markers from a small number of human hairs, possibly as little as one, to distinguish an individual among the world’s population.
"We are in a very similar place with protein-based identification to where DNA profiling was during the early days of its development," said LLNL chemist Brad Hart, the director of the Lab’s Forensic Science Center and co-author of a paper detailing the work.
"This method will be a game-changer for forensics, and while we’ve made a lot of progress toward proving it, there are steps to go before this new technique will be able to reach its full potential."
The work of LLNL scientists, a researcher with Utah-based Protein-Based Identification Technologies, LLC and other collaborators is described in a paper published today in PLOS ONE, a San Francisco-based peer reviewed online scientific journal.
The team’s collaborators and advisers include researchers from seven universities – Utah Valley University, the University of Utah, Montana State University, the University of California, Davis, the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, George Mason University and the University of Washington.
In the PLOS ONE study, the researchers examined male and female hair samples for 66 European-Americans, five African Americans, five Kenyans and six skeletal remains from the 1750s and 1850s, finding a total of 185 protein markers so far. Each person’s number of hair protein markers, combined with their pattern of protein markers, is unique.
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