In a new study from Flinders University, forensic scientists have developed a new tool that can check for environmental DNA in the dust on baggage, shoes, clothes, or even a passport. Led by postdoctoral research associate Dr. Jennifer Young, the goal of the project is to produce an innovative technique to combat terrorism.
The researchers designed their system to trace the source of dust on the articles of clothing and belongings of a suspect to match a soil profile or a specific region of a country.
“This could help provide evidence of where a person of interest might have traveled based on the environmental DNA signature from dust on their belongings,” explained Dr. Young.
“This microscopic environmental trace evidence, based on soil geochemical, bacterial and fungal analysis would complement and enhance current forensic intelligence tools.”
In collaboration with the Australian Federal Police, the University of Adelaide, and University of Canberra, the researchers have received a State Government Defence Innovation Partnership (DIP) grant of almost $150,000 to develop the intelligence and forensic potential of dust traces for counter-terrorism and national security.
The extended team is currently working to match the DNA extraction and amplification technique to Australian soil profiles from Geosciences Australia.
Study co-author Professor Adrian Linacre explained that environmental samples serve as ideal forms of contact trace evidence as detection at a scene can establish a link between a suspect, location, and victim.
“Environment samples extracted via the ‘massively parallel sequencing’ technology provide biological signatures from complex DNA mixtures and trace amounts of low biomass samples,” said Professor Linacre.
The intelligence and forensic potential of dust traces for counter-terrorism and national security (InFoDust) will put the new technique on trial with the soil reference data from across Australia.
The experts will utilize a series of soils with contrasting properties to understand the relationship between soil biogeochemical signals and the derived dust signal under controlled conditions. Then, using field experiments, they will introduce natural variables that could affect the makeup of environmental DNA.
The study is published in the journal Forensic Science International.