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New Test Detects Race and Gender With a Single Hair

May 30, 2014 04:34 PM EDT
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Look out criminals. The crime-busting tools of science fiction are becoming a reality. A new forensic test can detect the ethnicity and gender of someone using nothing but a single hair, and in less than two minutes no less, according to a new study.

The study, published in the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, details how a new tool designed by scientists has shown a 100 percent success rate in identifying gender and ethnicity using a strand of hair.

This test reportedly trumps DNA testing currently used by law enforcement - which traditionally relies on blood to determine factors like gender and ethnicity. According to a Queen's University press release, the new test and tool also works in a fraction of the time of standard blood testing, getting highly accurate results in about 85 seconds.

According to the study, the test takes an unusual approach to DNA testing, in which a single hair is ground up and then burnt. The foul smelling vapor consequently produced is then analyzed to produce a DNA analysis that reportedly has had a 100 percent success rate.

"Our analysis process is very robust and can be used universally," co-author Lily Huang said in a recent statement.

According to Huang, the incredibly fast test can distinguish between East Asians, Caucasians and South Asians, to name a few ethnicities, and is even accurate when analyzing hair that has been dyed.

According to the study, this is because gender is determined from elements like magnesisum, sulfer, strontium and zink - which are not influenced by hair dying chemicals. The same goes for lithium, molybdenum, sulfur, strontium, chromium, potassium, nickel, zinc and lead - which were found to be strong ethnicity markers.

These elements are also very stable, making hair superior to blood for sampling because hair cannot be contaminated and does not deteriorate as fast as blood samples.

Research co-author and guide Diane Beauchemin of Queen's University has already contacted law enforcement officials to take steps to bring this technique into the forensics field.

The study was published in the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry for early online release on April 24.

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