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Forensic Breakthrough: Unique Hair Proteins are Better than DNA in Human Identification

Sep 10, 2016 06:33 AM EDT
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DNA has met its rival (or partner) in identifying individuals in crime scenes. Scientists have discovered a new and better way in identifying someone through sequencing hair proteins.

According to a study published in the journal PLOS One, a team of scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California has discovered a method of getting genetic information of a person from hair proteins. The said process eliminates forensic science's dependency on DNA extraction. This new method also helps cases where DNA evidence of a body is unavailable.

To test this method of using hair proteins in identification called "proteomics," the researchers studied 76 living men and women and six sets of skeletal remains from London which dates back to the 1700s and 1800s.

The results showed that of the participants and samples used in the study, there were 185 protein markers found in the subjects' hair samples. Also, the number and pattern of each participant were unique, The Washington Post reports.

“We are in a very similar place with protein-based identification to where DNA profiling was during the early days of its development. This method will be a game-changer for forensics,” said Brad Hart, co-author of the study and director of the national laboratory’s Forensic Science Center.

In the study, the team said that frequency of changes in amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, could be measured through protein analysis and be used the same way as DNA to identify a person.

Meanwhile, Glinda S. Cooper, director of science and research at the Innocence Project, notes that even though the discovery is still in its infant stage, hair protein analysis may give birth to " a complementary but separate method than we currently have to correctly identify or to exclude the right person involved in a crime."

Christopher J. Hopkins, director of the Forensic Science ­Graduate Program at the ­University of California at Davis, is also open to the idea of using hair proteins in human identification in the future, saying that it's not an "overstatement" considering the amount of hair found in crime scenes.

Read:
Conservation vs. Genetics: Scientists Debate the Ethics of DNA Research, Gene Drives
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