FOREN­SIC ANAL­Y­SIS OF HAIR STRANDS CAN GIVE CLUES ABOUT CRIM­I­NALS’ AP­PEAR­ANCE AND LIFE­STYLE

BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

At­ten­tion wannabe su­pervil­lains! If you want to stay one step ahead of the law you might want shave off all your hair, be­cause re­searchers at West Vir­ginia Univer­sity have de­vel­oped a hair anal­y­sis tech­nique that could pro­vide in­ves­ti­ga­tors with vi­tal clues about a per­son’s age, sex, body mass, diet and ex­er­cise habits.

“Who you are, where you’ve been, what you eat, what drugs you take – it all shows up in your hair,” said re­searcher Glen P Jack­son. “De­pend­ing on the ques­tion be­ing asked, the chem­i­cal anal­y­sis of hu­man hair can pro­vide amaz­ing in­sights into the life and life­style of a per­son.”

Foren­sic hair anal­y­sis was once a com­mon fea­ture of crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions, but as it re­lied on a sim­ple ex­am­i­na­tion of hair colour, thick­ness and cur­va­ture, it was of­ten in­ac­cu­rate and un­re­li­able. Cur­rently, DNA test­ing is foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ go-to tech­nique. How­ever, Jack­son ar­gues that hair strands found at most crime scenes don’t con­tain enough vi­able DNA for anal­y­sis, and even if they do the tech­nique can only pro­vide a ge­netic pro­file of a sus­pect and noth­ing about their life­style.

“You could have ge­net­i­cally iden­ti­cal twins, and if one is obese and one is lean, we po­ten­tially could tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween their hairs with our method,” Jack­son says.

The tech­nique de­vel­oped by Jack­son’s team works by analysing the dif­fer­ing atomic struc­tures of the 21 chem­i­cals that make up ker­atin, the pro­tein found in hair. In a pair of re­cent ex­per­i­ments, the team used the method to iden­tify the body mass in­dex of sub­jects with 80 per cent ac­cu­racy, and their sex with 90 per cent ac­cu­racy.

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