4:39 PM, 4th August 2011
Latent fingermarks from a male donor developed on aluminum foil.

DEKALB, US: A Northern Illinois University chemist is part of an international team of scientists whose work might someday crack open cold-case files. The scientists are developing a new fingerprinting method that could make it possible to recover previously unusable or undetected prints from old evidence and from surfaces long considered too difficult by crime scene investigators.

Results of a preliminary study on the development of the novel immunogenic method were published this past spring in Chemical Communications, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Despite fingerprinting being a foundational technique of modern forensic science, only a fraction of all the fingermarks at a crime scene are actually detected.

The new method uses unique antibodies developed by NIU Chemistry and Biochemistry, Professor, Oliver Hofstetter. The antibodies are immobilized onto gold nanoparticles and applied to a surface, where they bind to amino acids contained in any fingerprints that are present.

“Our new fingerprint detection method enables the visualization of weak fingerprints that are difficult to develop with other current techniques. This is the first antibody-based technique that specifically targets amino acids,” Hofstetter said.

Hofstetter is working to develop the fingerprinting method with a team of researchers led by Xanthe Spindler, a Forensic Science Researcher, University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. Chief investigators and key personnel also include Director of the UTS Centre for Forensic Science professor Claude Roux, Professor Chris Lennard from the University of Canberra in Australia and Andrew McDonagh from UTS.

“The usage of targeting amino acids in fingerprint detection has been limited largely to porous surfaces like paper because of the fragility of amino acid secretions on non-porous surfaces,” said Spindler.

“We’ve been able to successfully target amino acids on non-porous surfaces for the first time,” said Spindler. “The potential is there to go back to old cases to see what might now be recovered.”

Since amino acids are relatively stable, there is potential to detect fingerprints more than a year old, the scientist said. The research is also a step in pursuit of what Spindler calls the “Holy Grail” - a reliable method for recovering fingerprints from human skin.

“It’s possible to work on fingerprints of any age or composition and to expand this work further to include other surfaces, possibly even skin,” said Hofstetter.

© Northern Illinois University News



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