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You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide June 7, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Drugs, Forensic Science, Think About It.

I’m talking about criminals. With a new forensic technique developed by researchers at the University of East Anglia along with King’s College in London, it’s going to be a lot easier to catch criminals.


New Technique? Tell Me About The Old One First

You’re probably familiar with the idea of fingerprinting right? Fingerprints have typically been used to identify people who commit crimes. They can even be used to rule out people who are innocent of crimes.

Traditionally, an investigator would start by taking fingerprints from a crime scene and then trying to either match them up to an immediate suspect or instead, they would check to see if they matched someone already in a database. Unfortunately, fingerprints couldn’t tell investigators much else about the suspect.

Not Anymore

With this new technique, a fingerprint can now tell investigators lots more about a person- like whether they smoke, use drugs or even what kinds of health conditions they have or medications they are taking.

Something To Make Criminals Sweat With Fear

It’s all in their sweat. A fingerprint leaves teeny tiny traces of sweat on a surface and people who do things like smoke have different metabolites in their sweat. These metabolites are the products leftover after your body is done breaking down all of the stuff you are exposed to plus the foods and drinks you consume.

More Meddling Scientists

Here’s where forensic scientists come in. They wash the prints with a nifty solution that only sticks to certain metabolites. For a smoker, cigarettes cause the body to produce a metabolite called cotinine.


Credit: Wiley. The fingerprints first get prepped with a sequence of solutions filled with nanoparticles, antibodies and fluorescent dye. After exposure to light, fingerprints show vivid colors that no criminal can hide! Busted!


To detect cotinine in this recent study, researchers used a solution with gold nanoparticles attached to antibodies. The antibodies latched onto the cotinine and then researchers marked a second antibody with a fluorescent dye and added this to the fingerprint. The second antibody got cosy with the new cotinine antibody and after shining a light on the fingerprint, it gave off a super bright glow. Neon red, green, or yellow fingerprints? I think it’s really cool but then again, I have a feeling criminals won’t be too pleased about it.


The Ultimate Goal

If researchers can have it their way, they eventually hope to develop a solution that can detect a huge range of substances and will show a different color for each one. It’s like a printout of a person’s lifestyle habits and health simply from a fingerprint. A little fingerprint in a crime scene can now tell investigators all about the suspect’s health as well as offering a lifestyle profile. It might just be the last of this lifestyle a criminal gets before being captured and thrown into a brand new lifestyle. One with some big metal bars.

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