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Surveying the Total Microbiome as Trace Evidence for Forensic Identification

NCJ Number
Yong Jin Lee
Date Published
October 2022
73 pages

This report examines the potential for using the total human microbiota, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses found on human-touched objects as microbial signatures for forensic human identification.


The author reports on a project that had three objectives relating to the utilization of human skin microbiomes as trace evidence for forensic applications: the first objective, to identify trace evidence suitable for the microbiome-based forensic application, hypothesizing that the objects that humans touch can be classified or categorized based on the transferability of the microbiome from the human skin; the second objective, to determine the total microbiome as trace evidence left on human-touched objects, hypothesizing that the structure and composition of the total microbiome from touched objects may have higher inter-individual variability and can be used to distinguish individuals and, as a result, determine human identity; and the third objective, to identify core/variable/transient microbiome associated with different post-contact intervals, hypothesizing that the structure and microbiome left on the objects may be changed over time after contact, and may serve as a tool for determining the elapsed time since contact and post-contact intervals (PCI). For their research, the author developed the reverse lifting method as a non-invasive fingerprint lifting method to identify human-touched objects suitable for both fingerprint and microbiome-based analysis. DNA was extracted, quantified, and amplified for amplified for amplicon sequencing and quantitative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) assay. As a result, the author suggests that microbiome-based forensic identification may provide an alternative method to identify individuals associated with a crime scene.