A new method of detecting faint traces of blood in finger marks and stains could aid cold case crime investigations and cut down on potential miscarriages of justice, according to recently published research.
Dr Simona Francese: Our
methodology enables the specific
and sensitive detection or
identification of blood
A team of scientists from Sheffield Hallam University's Biomolecular Research Centre (BMRC) have discovered a way of using Advanced Mass Spectrometry to identify blood-specific proteins in finger marks and stains. The method has been shown to work with palm prints as old as nine years as well as 30-year-old stains.
The technique known as matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS), is a powerful imaging technology normally used to map different molecules within tissue sections. During the process the different proteins that make up blood are broken down into smaller masses (peptides) to allow for the analysis to take place and to identify the peptides that make up the blood-specific proteins in stains and finger marks.
As well as being able to use MALDI-MS to test for traces of drugs and other substances in a fingerprint, the research team has collaborated with scientists from the University of Naples, Italy, to further develop the method to the point where it is now possible to determine whether the blood belongs to a human or an animal, and more specifically, the animal species, in just five minutes.
The project has been part-funded by the Home Office's Centre for Advanced Science and Technology and was further refined through an extended collaboration with a fingerprint expert from the Minnesota Bureau of Investigation in the United States.
This further work has enabled the team to make the technique even more versatile as it is now possible to conduct the tests without destroying the integrity of the ridge pattern of the fingerprint, enabling it to be used both to create a criminal profile and to identify a suspect that has prints on file.
This latest development has recently been published in the scientific journal Proteomics. It is the first time a method of this kind has ever been developed and used to identify and visualise the presence of blood in finger marks without destroying them.
Project lead, Dr Simona Francese of the BMRC, said: "In forensics, the detection of blood relies on a number of tests that are largely presumptive. This means that they may indicate the presence of blood, whether as visible red stains or invisible, when in fact blood is not actually present.
“This is because these tests use reagents that are not specific to blood and this could therefore have the potential to lead to a miscarriage of justice or a delay in the resolution of a criminal case. Our methodology enables the specific and sensitive detection or identification of blood, both in stains and in finger marks. This intelligence can be crucial in high profile crimes such as homicides as it could help to steer the investigation in the right direction and therefore result in a speedier and correct course of justice.”