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Bacteria 'signatures' could be used to trace burglars, scientists say

Study proves microbes left by intruders can be singled out from those of residents

Burglars in the future could be linked to the scene of the crime by gathering and analysing the unique bacteria they leave behind.

Scientists in the US have paved the way for a new forensic technique to be explored in the UK after demonstrating the microbial make-up of each individual can identify persons involved in crimes occurring in the home.

“If an individual’s microbial signatures are recovered from a built-environment, the human made surroundings that we people live in, they can discriminately identify a person among other individuals,” said Jarrad Hampton-Marcell, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago. “The microbiome can possibly serve as trace evidence in forensic investigation.”

Swabs were taken from the noses and hands of participants and various surfaces from their respective homes and following mock burglaries by non-residents.

All humans have a distinguishable “microbial cloud” which forms as we release approximately 36 million bacterial cells per hour.

The unique composition of each person’s cloud varies with hygiene and environment. People with beards, for instance, shed more bacteria because the surface area of their facial hair provides more room for them to thrive. While the bacteria formation of people who frequently swim and come into contact with chlorine also differs.

A total of 9,965 unique microbial species were identified among 30 individuals during the study, providing the opportunity to trace microbial signatures back to their originating source.

Non-residents’ bacteria was mapped to residents’ homes demonstrating an interaction accuracy greater than 60 per cent.

Professor of Crime and Forensic Sciences at University College London Ruth Morgan, said: “It's a really interesting application and potentially has the ability to be a really valuable part of the forensic science toolkit.

"The accuracy of the technique is still being addressed, but as part of a suite of other forensic tools, there is a lot of potential for this kind of approach to be a complementary approach alongside other techniques.”