New Protein Sequencing May One Day Replace DNA in Crime Scene Investigation

DNA has been used in solving crimes by comparing a DNA sample from a suspect with DNA found at the scene of a crime and has been the primary decider in suspect identification for years. Now, a study is suggesting that a new scientific method may be even more efficient than DNA. The method of human hair protein sequencing identifies individuals by the proteins found in the shafts of their hairs.

According to Glendon Parker and colleagues, the proteins found in the hair are more ample and durable than DNA which can be damaged by chemical, environmental and biological processes.

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Researchers in the study collected samples from 76 modern subjects which included five Kenyans, five African-Americans and 66 European-Americans as well as six samples from England from the early 19th century. Researchers found that even though the older samples had suffered some degradation, their protein analysis placed them in their proper ancestry. It also showed distinct differences between the African-American, Kenyan and European-American samples.

A total of 185 hair protein markers were found using the samples that Parker suggests can be used to identify a single person out of one million people. Researchers hope to identify approximately 100 of the markers as a core set that would allow them to distinguish an individual from the population of the entire world.

Brad Hart, chemist and co-author of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, called the method a “game changer for forensics.” He said that there has been a lot of progress with the new method but there is still work to be done to get the full potential from the analysis. “We are in a very similar place with protein-based identification to where DNA profiling was during the early days of its development,” he said.

In the future, hair protein sequencing is likely to be an important tool in crime scene investigation.