Chemist contributes to development of novel method for recovering old fingerprints

Aug 03, 2011
Latent fingermarks from a male donor developed on aluminum foil. Credit: Xanthe Spindler

A Northern Illinois University chemist is part of an international team of scientists whose work might someday crack open cold-case files.

The scientists are developing a new fingerprinting method that could make it possible to recover previously unusable or undetected prints from old evidence and from surfaces long considered too difficult by .

Results of a preliminary study on the development of the novel immunogenic method were published this past spring in Chemical Communications, a journal of the .

Despite fingerprinting being a foundational technique of modern , only a fraction of all the fingermarks at a crime scene are actually detected.

The new method uses unique developed by NIU Chemistry and Biochemistry Professor Oliver Hofstetter. The antibodies are immobilized onto and applied to a surface, where they bind to contained in any that are present. A is then used to improve the visualization and capture of the fingerprint.

While not seen as a replacement for current techniques of recovering fresh prints, the new method is particularly effective for enhancing aged or dried fingermarks on non-porous surfaces.

“Our new fingerprint detection method enables the visualization of weak fingerprints that are difficult to develop with other current techniques,” Hofstetter said. “This is the first antibody-based technique that specifically targets amino acids, which are ubiquitous components of human sweat and are present in invisible fingerprints on non-porous surfaces, such as glass and ceramics.”

Hofstetter is working to develop the fingerprinting method with a team of researchers led by Xanthe Spindler, a forensic science researcher at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in Australia. Chief investigators and key personnel also include Director of the UTS Center for Forensic Science Professor Claude Roux, Professor Chris Lennard from the University of Canberra in Australia and Andrew McDonagh from UTS.

“The targeting of amino acids in fingerprint detection has been around since the mid-’50s, but its use has been limited largely to porous surfaces like paper because of the fragility of amino acid secretions on non-porous surfaces,” Spindler said.

“We’ve been able to successfully target amino acids on non-porous surfaces for the first time, with promising results in enhancing aged and degraded fingermarks that typically give poor results with traditional powdering and cyanoacrylate fuming,” Spindler said. “The potential is there to go back to old cases to see what might now be recovered.”

Hofstetter said the researchers have tested fingerprints that have been stored for as long as a year. Unlike conventional techniques, the effectiveness of the antibody-based system did not decrease with fingerprint age. Because amino acids are relatively stable, there is the potential to detect even much older fingerprints, the scientists said.

The research is also a step in pursuit of what Spindler calls the “Holy Grail”—a reliable method for recovering fingerprints from human skin.

“The work we have done so far enables us to pursue several intriguing research directions and to test the method under a variety of experimental conditions,” Hofstetter said. “It’s possible to work on fingerprints of any age or composition and to expand this work further to include other surfaces, possibly even skin.”

Hofstetter’s research expertise is in the production, characterization and application of antibodies that recognize small molecules.

“The Australian team originally contacted me,” he said. “They had the idea of trying to detect amino acids in fingerprints using an immunological approach and knew that I had antibodies directed against amino acids. After discussing their planned approach with them, I selected a batch of antibodies I thought might work and advised them on how to apply them and use them in their test.”

Explore further: Structure of sodium channels different than previously believed

Provided by Northern Illinois University

4.7 /5 (3 votes)

Related Stories

Hidden fingerprints revealed

Mar 15, 2007

Hidden fingerprints can be now be revealed quickly and reliably thanks to two developments in nanotechnology. The news is reported in the latest edition of the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Chemical Communications.

Organic chemistry: Amino acids made easy

May 04, 2011

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. There are 22 different amino acids and they can combine in a myriad ways to form a vast array of proteins. All amino acids except glycine are chiral molecules, ...

Hot off the press: Nanoscale Gutenberg-style printing

Apr 15, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- When Gutenberg developed the principles of modern book printing, books became available to the masses. Hoping to bring technology capable of mass production to the nanometer scale, Udo Bach ...

Recommended for you

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

Apr 16, 2014

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

World's first successful visualisation of key coenzyme

Apr 16, 2014

Japanese researchers have successfully developed the world's first imaging method for visualising the behaviour of nicotine-adenine dinucleotide derivative (NAD(P)H), a key coenzyme, inside cells. This feat ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...