Mini-Worlds in the Earth Provide Forensic Clues

Linking soil at a crime scene to a potential offender has just been made easier through the help of tiny microbes. In a study published in Forensic Science International, researchers were able to analyse the genes of bacteria found in samples of soil to develop a unique genetic fingerprint of soil origin.

Turns out, much like human communities, bacterial communities can be characterised by shared genetic characteristics – allowing forensic experts to compare microbes across soil locations.

Using the same equipment and procedures for analysing human DNA, researchers were able to identify a unique genetic fingerprint of the bacteria populations in soil. This, in turn, acts as a point of comparison for soil samples taken from a crime scene with samples taken from a suspect, victim or potential witness.

Forensic soil analysis has been used to solve many high-profile Australian cases. In 2000, Mathew Holding was convicted of murdering his mother and grandmother largely as investigators were able to link the soil on a shovel found in the trunk of Mr Holding’s car with the land where his victims were buried.

Microbes are the new hot topic of discussion in the forensic sciences as they are unlikely to be considered by offenders when cleaning a crime scene. The great forensic scientist Dr Edmond Locard once said that “every contact leaves a trace” – turns out sometimes that ‘trace’ is alive.

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