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