Hair Strands Could Reveal Lifestyle Secrets of Suspects – Headline Science

Hair Strands Could Reveal Lifestyle Secrets of Suspects – Headline Science


In the world of forensics, hair fiber analysis
has a questionable past. Once a mainstay of criminal investigations,
critics have argued that hair analysis is subjective and experts have overstated its
reliability. Forensic investigators still collect hair
samples but rarely use them anymore instead relying on DNA. Glen Jackson and his team from West Virginia
University are working on a hair analysis technique that will deliver details of the
person’s lifestyle that may be key in breaking a case. Using liquid chromatography in conjunction
with isotope ratio mass spectrometry, the researchers measured the ratio of isotopes,
atoms of the same element that have differing numbers of neutrons, found in keratin, the
primary constituent of hair. This method is not difficult for a technician
to perform and therefore could become more common in crime labs. With the approach, the team identified 15
isotope ratio measurements that potentially could yield crucial information about certain
lifestyle habits of individuals. To test this possibility, a researcher in
Jackson’s group collected hair samples from 20 women in Jordan. In a blind evaluation based on these hair
samples, Jackson’s team was able to predict a subject’s body mass index with about 80
percent accuracy. Recently, the researchers conducted a similar
study among 20 American men and women and found that they could identify the sex of
a donor with 90 percent accuracy. While promising, Jackson says far more work
needs to be done before this technique can be used in crime labs. For now, the analysis requires several strands
of hair from the same person, which could make it difficult to use in forensic settings
where only a single stand may be available. But if these kinks can be worked out, this
technique could eventually be a complementary forensic tool to DNA analyses, filling in
gaps that genetic materials alone can’t plug The researchers are presenting their work
at the 253rd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society. Headline Science is produced by the American
Chemical Society. For more of the latest chemistry headlines
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2 thoughts on “Hair Strands Could Reveal Lifestyle Secrets of Suspects – Headline Science”

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