home .Featured, Forensics Microbiomes in the built environment go 3D #forensics

Microbiomes in the built environment go 3D #forensics


OK this new paper is pretty cool: Creating a 3D microbial and chemical snapshot of a human habitat | Scientific Reports. 


One of the goals of forensic science is to identify individuals and their lifestyle by analyzing the trace signatures left behind in built environments. Here, microbiome and metabolomic methods were used to see how its occupants used an office and to also gain insights into the lifestyle characteristics such as diet, medications, and personal care products of the occupants. 3D molecular cartography, a molecular visualization technology, was used in combination with mass spectrometry and microbial inventories to highlight human-environmental interactions. Molecular signatures were correlated with the individuals as well as their interactions with this indoor environment. There are person-specific chemical and microbial signatures associated with this environment that directly relate who had touched objects such as computers, computer mice, cell phones, desk phone, table or desks. By combining molecular and microbial investigation forensic strategies, this study offers novel insights to investigators who value the reconstructing of human lifestyle and characterization of human environmental interaction.


I am not convinced that this is ready for forensic analysis in a criminal sense, and glad to see the authors provide a strong statement in that regard:

As with any investigation, scientific or judicial, controlling for error is of paramount importance. Although this proof-of-concept study provides novel insights into emerging molecular forensics capabilities, there are ethical, social and legal implications that surround such technologies. The scientific forensic community will have to tackle these societal and privacy challenges in the next few decades as the technology matures. Further developing the reliability and statistical accuracy of human-environmental interaction would greatly strengthen its merit in a courtroom, but in its current implementation it may help an investigator reconstruct what transpired in a room. It is important to note that the current state of this technology cannot and should not replace traditional forensics approaches. Additionally, the authors of this study hope that this proof-of-concept work will launch new research that will test temporal limits (how long do signatures last) and scalability (including multiple rooms, large number of suspects, etc.) of the approach introduced here.

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