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Condoms and coffee: New fingerprint testing to be used in criminal cases

Copyright: Pixabay, creative commons

BBSRC-funded research will lead a major addition to evidence given at court, with the Home Office stating that it may be a matter of months before it is used in casework.

The new technique uses ion mobility mass spectrometry (MS) to detect traces of compounds on endogenous cells, including fingerprint remains. This means that if there are traces of molecules from items like hair-gel and condom lubricants, or evidence of alcohol and drug use, this new fingerprint analysis technique will be able to identify this. 

"When you think about what a fingerprint is, it's nothing else but sweat and sweat is a biological matrix”, said Dr Simona Francese, the project’s Principal Investigator.

Copyright: Pixabay, creative commons
Copyright: Pixabay/CC 2.0

"It contains molecules from within your body but also molecules that you have just contaminated your fingertips with, so the amount of information there potentially to retrieve is huge”, Dr Francese added.

The project seeks to develop MS imaging through several research strands, including the improved application of ion mobility MS to compound distribution, and protein identification from tissue and fingerprints.

The team from Sheffield Hallam University had previously trialled the technique with West Yorkshire Police in 2014 at a burglary, and found that it offered significantly more information on the identification of a suspect. The team were able to see that a man who had been at the crime scene had probably drunk coffee within an hour of leaving his fingerprint.

"I would want to see this technology in high-profile cases such as murder or rape,” said the project’s Principal Investigator Dr Simona Francese. “It's very sophisticated - it's expensive but it's worthwhile.”

The Home Office has invested a further £80,000 in the project to develop it further for all UK police forces to use.



BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

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Tags: biosciences forensics Fundamental bioscience press release