The burglary microbiome project

June 8, 2018, American Society for Microbiology

Researchers have demonstrated that microbial signatures, the unique microbial make-up of each individual, from the built environment can identify persons involved in crimes occurring in the home, such as burglaries. The research is presented at ASM Microbe, the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, held from June 7th to June 11th in Atlanta, Georgia.

"If an individual's microbial signatures are recovered from a built-environment, the human made surroundings that we people live in, they can discriminately identify a person among other individuals," said Jarrad Hampton-Marcell, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, who will present the study at ASM Microbe. "The microbiome can possibly serve as trace evidence in forensic investigations," he said.

The researchers collected samples from residents (nostril and hand) and various surfaces from their respective homes in Chicago, IL and Fort Lauderdale, FL prior to and following mock burglaries by non-residents. They identified unique bacterial assemblages for each individual, and generated models to discern the accuracy of predicting a non-resident interacting with a given home.

Humans emit approximately 36 million per hour into their immediate environment, providing the opportunity to trace microbial signatures back to their originating source. The potential of tracking microbial exchange between an individual and a built environment surface has been well demonstrated by matching the microbial signature on individual participants' finger tips to keys on a computer keyboard, as well as personal devices.

A total of 9,965 unique operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were identified among 30 individuals. Non-residents' unique OTUs were mapped to residents' home demonstrating an interaction accuracy greater than 60%. When observing the change in uOTUs over time, appearance/disappearance rates showed no significant difference (ANOVA, p > 0.05) in the absence or presence of other individuals.

"This study is one of the first to use the microbiome as a forensic tool using unique markers rather than variances in microbial community structure," said Hampton-Marcell, "With further improvement in detection of stable markers, the human microbiome may serve as an additional tool for human profiling and ."

Explore further: Bacterial forensics: Tracing a suspect from the microbes on their shoes

Related Stories

Microbial 'signature' for sexual crimes

December 15, 2014

Bacterial communities living on an individual's pubic hairs could be used as a microbial 'signature' to trace their involvement in sexual assault cases, according to a study published in the open access journal Investigative ...

Bacteria on shoes could help forensic teams catch suspects

May 13, 2015

Prospective criminals should take note: bacteria are everywhere. A small pilot study has shown that the germs on personal belongings such as shoes and mobile phones are actually a useful way of tracing a person's whereabouts ...

Recommended for you

Semimetals are high conductors

March 18, 2019

Researchers in China and at UC Davis have measured high conductivity in very thin layers of niobium arsenide, a type of material called a Weyl semimetal. The material has about three times the conductivity of copper at room ...


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.