A new science, known as bacterial signature, may replace DNA science, and become “the leading contender for the next-generation investigations” according to forensic experts. It has been a long-standing premise that DNA is irrefutable, and that a person’s DNA cannot be duplicated or applicable to any other person. Now, according to Mandy Oakland’s article, showcased in a special edition of Times Magazine entitled, “Innocent, The Fight Against Wrongful Convictions,” there is a more robust form of forensics on the way –well maybe 5 to 10 years away, but the promise of its exactness is encouraging.
Here are the exciting aspects of the microbiome signature possessed by each of us, and here is a sample of how it could work. George Duncan, a DNA expert at Broward County sherff’s office, states “that bacteria isn’t just inside us; we’re covered with the stuff, too.” With that said, forensic specialists suggest “crime scenes are riddled with valuable clues that are currently left untested,” such as burglars who may “sit on a couch next to the family cat.” Under this type of physical evidence, both the couch and cat are tested and anlayzed for the burglar’s potential bacteria left at the crime scene.
All right, if you think that was a far stretch, listen to this one! Bacteria, although, somewhat controversial, can “reveal private information about its host, from what diseases they might have to what kind of work they do to their ethnicity,” states law professor, David H. Kaye. Further, in a mock crime scene study, it was found [the] criminals were drinkers and had migraines, whereas, their victims were omnivores and popped vitamin B and calcium.” This study revlealed that “bacteria could also tell investigators more about what kind of a person the suspect is.” Now, that’s taking profiling to an extreme and here is where the ethics controversy begins to surface. How much personal information can be exposed and according to Kaye, “that information, some caution, is far too sensitive to put into a data base.” Imagine what private and personal information could be used to drill down suspects; where they eat, what they eat, where they work, construction perhaps, or what medical problems exist.
In closing, on a positive note, bacteria signature is very inexpensive to process, as well as fast to deliver, which is contrary to the current state of DNA and chemical analysis used to reveal the true perpetrator of a crime.
For more information on the Home Microbiome Project, watch the video and read the article by Rachel Feltman for the Washington Post, “Hotel Rooms Aren’t Yucky – You Colonize Them With Your Own Personal Bacteria Within Hours.”