A new technique to analyse fingermarks from crime scenes has the potential to give crucial additional details about a suspect such their medications, diet and the time at which they accidentally left the fingermark.
The technique, under development by academics at the Biomedical Research Centre (BMRC) at Sheffield Hallam University, allows investigators to identify key details about suspects and can even be used to detect any substances they might have touched, such as traces of cocaine.
These extra details can be important background information in a criminal investigation, especially if the suspect's fingerprint is not on the police database. It is hoped the technique will compliment current fingermark detection techniques and assist in criminal investigations.
A fingermark is made up of material from the surface of the skin and from gland secretions, which can be detected and analysed. Conventionally, fingermarks found at the scene of a crime are lifted, often using a powder, and are compared with prints on a police database to identify a suspect.
For the study, academics from Sheffield Hallam used matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI-MSI), which is a powerful technology normally used to map different molecules within tissue sections. For the study the technology was used, for the first time, to analyse and produce images of fingermarks.
They found that images obtained using the MALDI-MSI technique were suitable for comparison by classical forensic approaches and provided a wider range of information. They also discovered that fingermarks that had been tested could be re-used allowing further, more traditional forensic testing to produce evidence currently accepted in court.
Simona Francese, from the University's BMRC, said: "Based on the results produced so far and the research currently undertaken we can say this technology can help gain much more information from a fingermark than is currently available. Using it, we could link the suspect to criminal activity and potentially even gain details of their lifestyle by detecting the use of drugs, medication and even diet. This is valuable information to a criminal investigation, particularly if the suspect's print is not on the criminal database."
Rosalind Wolstenholme, who co-authored the report, said: "Not only does the MALDI-MSI technique allow a greater range of information to be obtained from a fingermark, it also does not affect the fingermark so it can still be analysed by classic forensic approaches afterwards. We hope to further develop this technique and integrate it with another portable spectroscopic technique, Raman spectroscopy, making this technological approach complimentary to current forensic technology."
- Rosalind Wolstenholme, Robert Bradshaw, Malcolm R. Clench, Simona Francese. Study of latent fingermarks by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation mass spectrometry imaging of endogenous lipids. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 2009; 23 (19): 3031 DOI: 10.1002/rcm.4218
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