Discovery of Unique Hair Proteins Suggests Proteonomics are a Possible New Forensic Profiling Tool

Unique Protein Marker Combinations Uncovered
A research laboratory in California, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has discovered that their study of 82 living and recovered hair samples yielded evidence of hair proteomics, proteins that genes produce. The scientists hypothesize that hair proteins can be used to identify genetic mutations. Eventually, they believe, protein analysis will join DNA analysis as a key technique in exonerating and determining suspects.

Researchers at the lab used hair samples from 76 living people and 6 skeletal remains, studying the samples carefully protein markers. They analyzed the sequences in 185 protein markers from 66 European Americans, 5 African Americans, 5 Kenyans, and 6 skeletal remains from London. According to the laboratory, the protein markers all had unique combinations.

Background on the History of Forensic Profiling
The steady development of protein-based identification mirrors that of DNA profiling. 1933 marked the first time a person was convicted based on DNA. Forensic profiling, which was once based on visual comparisons using the naked eye, has quickly evolved. Scientists are now capable of extracting DNA samples from the seemingly impossibly minuscule, including invisible skin cells. Protein mutations, like the ones discovered in the hair samples, occur because DNA mutations also lightly impact amino acids, which construct proteins. Analyzing protein mutations in hair could supersede the controversial use of hair strand comparisons.

The Discovery Has Caused Ripples in the Science World
One proponent of new forensic profiling techniques is Glinda S. Cooper, director of the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping wrongly convicted victims. The famous program, which has successfully exonerated 344 inmates thanks to DNA evidence, identifies outdated and subjective forensic techniques -- including bite mark and hair comparisons -- as a primary reason for wrongful accusations. Overall, the new discovery is a possible "game-changer" according to Christopher J. Hopkins, a forensic science director at University of California at Davis.

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