A breakthrough study has established that proteins found in human hair can work like fingerprints in the arena of crime investigation. This is because hair protein is unique to each individual and is more effective than traditional DNA profiling used in forensic analysis of human remains.
The new study beats the limitations posed by the conventional DNA profiling used by forensic scientists. It asserts that proteins are more stable and can offer accurate identification of human remains.
Details of the protein-centric hair analysis technique were published in PLOS ONE. According to lead author Brad Hart, a forensic scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the protein analysis will be a "game changer."
"We are in a very similar place with protein-based identification to where DNA profiling was during the early days of its development," Hart said.
The study noted that there are significant correlations between the patterns of a person's hair protein and DNA. This further legitimizes the technique's usefulness to forensic science.
When the research methodology is extrapolated, the identification technique can help identify dead bodies and quicken the analysis of crime scenes.
The accuracy of DNA profiling for crime detection thrived because an individual's DNA is unique and different. However, prolonged environmental and chemical processes do degrade DNA and thwart their utility as time passes. Protein scores over DNA profiling because it is more stable than DNA and all variations are unique to the individual.
There is a pioneering work on protein analysis of the hair done by Glendon Parker, who is a biochemist at LLNL.
"For this to be used as a forensic tool, we need to accomplish two things: we need to reduce sample size to a single hair, and we need to nail down the biostatistics and determine the best way to apply the product-rule," Parker said.
In the analysis, his team examined hair samples of six individuals who died close to 250 years ago, yet showed the amazing strength of proteins in their hair.
Parker's team also had sample analysis of 76 living people of American, European and African origin. Overall, 185 hair protein markers emerged as special patterns that made every individual stand out in a population of 1 million.
At the advanced level, the team is aiming to trace 100 protein markers to demarcate a single individual stand different from the entire world's population with a single strand of hair.
In an interview, Parker said it was awesome that genetically variant peptides in archaeological hair are still surviving despite the degradation.
With protein proving to be more abundant and robust than DNA, vast avenues in bioarchaeology and forensic science are opening up, said Andrew Wilson of University of Bradford in the UK.