Livermore researchers ID new identification technique using human hair

LIVERMORE, Calif. (KGO) -- From tracing the footsteps of prehistoric creatures to investigating the crime of the century, DNA testing has revolutionized the science of forensics. But even crime scene investigators admit that DNA evidence can be tricky to collect, because it degrades quickly in the environment.

"So we've done is we've developed a technique which gives us access to genetic information about a person without needing their DNA," says Dr. Brad Hart of Lawrence Livermore Lab.

Hart directs the lab's forensic science center. His team is now perfecting a system that analyzes the proteins in human hair. They say even a single strand contains a biological signature so unique that it could eventually identify a person from among the entire population of the world. Concept inventor Dr. Lendon Parker says the advantages could be game changing.

"It has the potential to be relatively cheap and quick to obtain and fast, and its technology is fundamentally different to DNA," explains Parker.

Once the hair samples are processed, they're run through a powerful device known as a mass spectrometer. The team is focusing in on protein markers in hair, which are influenced by mutations in a person's DNA. The result is a unique signature pattern, influenced by DNA, but from a source that's much more durable. They say the system is still being optimized as new markers are uncovered. But they hope it could ultimately help resolve riddles from centuries past, or perhaps solve another crime of the century in the future.

"If we can provide a tool that can help in even a small number of cases, that would be fantastic," says Hart.

Written and produced by Tim Didion
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