Dutch scientists crack fingerprint dating riddle

June 4, 2014
fingerprint
Image credit: Wikimedia.

Criminals' days may be numbered after Dutch forensic experts discovered how to accurately date fingerprints, a breakthrough that could one day let police date crime scene prints from years ago.

"It's not quite the Holy Grail of fingerprinting, but it's a very important discovery," Marcel de Puit, fingerprint researcher at the Dutch Forensic Institute (NFI), told AFP on Wednesday, hailing what he said was a world's first.

"Police regularly ask us if we can date ," he said, for instance a neighbour's prints found at the scene of a burglary.

Were they left the last time the neighbour came round for coffee or from the night of the crime?

"Being able to date the prints means you can determine when a potential suspect was at the crime scene or which fingerprints are relevant for the investigation," De Puit said.

Fingerprints leave nearly-unique marks on a surface that can be copied and compared to a database to identify a suspect, a police technique that rose to prominence in the early 1900s.

The prints themselves are made up of sweat and grease, including a complex mix of cholesterol, amino acids and proteins.

"The chemicals in these fingerprints can be analysed," said De Puit. "Some disappear over time and it's the relative proportions of these chemicals that allow us to date a fingerprint."

Previous attempts to crack the formula for dating fingerprints failed because they focused on the amounts of chemicals, rather than their relative proportions, De Puit said.

Taking into account the temperature of the original prints' surroundings, which affects the speed of deterioration, forensic experts can now date fingerprints to within "one or two days", up to 15 days.

The new technique needs to be extensively tested on real crimes scenes, leading to the creation of a database, before it can be used in prosecutions, hopefully "within a year", De Puit said.

As the database expands, so should the technique's reliability, allowing police to date fingerprints from several years before.

In the meantime, De Puit and his team are working on another revolutionary analysis technique: analysing fingerprint chemicals to determine a suspect's drug or food consumption.

Explore further: How sensors can detect the crime-solving clues at our fingertips

Related Stories

Novel technique to detect fingerprints

October 24, 2013

An innovative product that uses fluorescence to detect fingerprints has been developed by a team from the Laboratoire de Photophysique et Photochimie Supramoléculaire et Macromoléculaire (CNRS/ENS Cachan) in collaboration ...

Recommended for you

Brazilian wasp venom kills cancer cells by opening them up

September 1, 2015

The social wasp Polybia paulista protects itself against predators by producing venom known to contain a powerful cancer-fighting ingredient. A Biophysical Journal study published September 1 reveals exactly how the venom's ...

Naturally-occurring protein enables slower-melting ice cream

August 31, 2015

(Phys.org)—Scientists have developed a slower-melting ice cream—consider the advantages the next time a hot summer day turns your child's cone with its dream-like mound of orange, vanilla and lemon swirls with chocolate ...

Antibody-making bacteria promise drug development

August 31, 2015

Monoclonal antibodies, proteins that bind to and destroy foreign invaders in our bodies, routinely are used as therapeutic agents to fight a wide range of maladies including breast cancer, leukemia, asthma, arthritis, psoriasis, ...

A marine creature's magic trick explained

September 2, 2015

Tiny ocean creatures known as sea sapphires perform a sort of magic trick as they swim: One second they appear in splendid iridescent shades of blue, purple or green, and the next they may turn invisible (at least the blue ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.