Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Can fingerprints reveal habits?


by blogger jgl

Images that show how fingerprints can be used to reveal whether you are a smoker, an avid coffee drinker, or even a hard drug user, have been revealed by UK scientists.

They were produced using a novel forensic technique that could in future be used on fingerprints collected at a crime scene. If the prints in question are not on file, this would still give police a powerful way to shrink their pool of suspects, by identifying their lifestyle habits...

...It exploits the fact that the breakdown products - metabolites - of substances people consume are deposited in sweat found in pores in their fingerprint ridges. To detect these metabolites they use gold nanoparticles...

...To detect cotinine, a fingerprint is simply dabbed with a solution containing gold nanoparticles with attached antibodies that bind to the metabolite. Then a second antibody that binds to the cotinine antibodies and is marked with a fluorescent dye is applied...

I wonder what the limitations are? Does it work with every print or only sweaty ones? Will only habitual users "produce" or can it detect someone who is on a binge? And finally, has anyone seen this work published in a journal yet?

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

If this can really work than I believe this could help profile criminals. JB

Mr Mans Wife said...

Can't they already do this with a strand of a persons hair? Or do I just watch too much tv?

I know what they would find in my finger prints... chocolate!

Anonymous said...

I think that this could become an important tool in identifying prepertators, also I think this discover was a long time coming. I am a firm believer in this new technology because what is the usual avenue for carrying out our habits? The fingers and hands, therfore there has to be some traces of those habits left behind. VP

Forensic Bloggers said...

that is the question... will this work. they've run into some trouble with hair analysis and detecting traces. I think as long as they are using it for investigation assistance and not using it in trials, then it's alright.

Anonymous said...

revealing habits through prints would be a good tool for investigation. Helping to profile criminals and narrow the search is one thing, but bringing this sort of information into the courtroom wouldn't be good. Using this info. to arrest and convict would have devestating consequences.
trm

Anonymous said...

This is such an interesting concept though not one that is surprising with our ever-evolving technology. I have two main questions...Nubmer one, how accurate is this new tool, in other words, is there a a lto of room for false results? And secondly, from this test can you tell what specific drug was being used or only that the suspect was a smoker?

-LL

Anonymous said...

This seems very interesting. My question though is how long does the metabolite remain in the individual's system. For instance, if I smoked cigarettes for ten years, and then quit for ten years, would they still detect the metabolite and label me a smoker? It seems like their would be a lot problems with using this method in forensic science cases. It looks to me like its more of a technique that will be used in the future to prosecute drug criminals. CT

Anonymous said...

This seems like a fascinating way to catch or help to catch criminals. GR

Forensic Bloggers said...

good comments questions.

this test is more for short term, although i think drugs (such as nicotine) appear in your sweat after they fall below detection in blood or urine.

but for a smoker that has quit for a week or longer, probably no luck.

contamination (false positives) is an issue. for example, what if you have been handling cigarettes or chewing tobacco (or course, if you are handling it, you are probably using it)?

I don't think the work has been done for other drugs. One reaon is that it is a tougher experiment to run (you can't just round up cocaine users, give them coke, then test their fingerprints)

more research is needed to see how far this can go.
-jgl

Anonymous said...

Hopefully this will be a good way to narrow down suspects when investigating a crime. However, it could have an adverse affect and give investigators another tool to focus on the wrong suspect as well.

Anonymous said...

I sent the very last comment. cw

Anonymous said...

I think this would be a good idea to help catch criminals. However, is it accurate enough to decrease the list of suspects? KS

Anonymous said...

IF criminals are aware of this idenification system could they not commit a crime and change there life styles accordingly. For example if the fingerprint shows a nonsmoking,and a heavy coffee drinker could a criminal start smoking and put down the coffee. There always seems to be a loop hole could this be one. DT

Forensic Bloggers said...

good comments.

you each picked up on the key problem with inexact techniques like this. They might miss the guilty party (change of habits or incorrect analysis), or they may start investigating the wrong guy (incorrect analysis or incorrect assumptions)

-jgl

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This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I agree that it would be of great help to investigators to catch the criminal. However, I would like to know if it would narrow down evidence enough to be useful. I mean, if the offender is a smoker, wouldn't the investigators also be looking for other evidence such as cigarettes or ash particles? I just don't know how useful it will really be to catch criminals. Also, do the fingerprints reveal long term habits of the individual or something that the individual just started?

WAS

Anonymous said...

I guess it's a good thing I don't drink coffe, smoke, or use drugs! This could be a great tool.They have used a foot print to catch a criminal, could they detect these three things in a foot print?

AA

Forensic Bloggers said...

good comments.

WAS, good critical thinking on the question about how long it takes for these chemicals to show up and how long it takes for them to "disappear". It would take more research.

AA, I like your thought about the foot print. I would think that it would almost have to be present in "foot sweat" as well. I wonder if nicotine could be recovered from the socks and shoes of smokers?

-dr. l

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