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Antibodies: A New Forensic Identification Tool?

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A new method of human identification is being tested, and researchers involved say it may prove to be a useful tool for the military, detectives and forensic experts. This emerging methodology is based on the analysis of antibodies that are unique to each individual. Antibodies are proteins the body uses to defend itself from viruses and antigens. An “antibody bar code” can be extracted from biological fluids, such as blood, saliva, and semen, which are sample types routinely used to obtain DNA profiles.

For the past 10 years, researchers at the Idaho National Laboratory have been fine-tuning the test that is being touted as faster and possibly cheaper than standard DNA tests available today. According to the Associated Press, these researchers state that the new technology is not meant to replace the proven DNA identification processes used in law enforcement today, but rather to augment the screening and possibly reduce the number of DNA tests required in a typical forensic investigation. For example, proponents say antibody testing may help sort out the evidence in crime scenes where there may be multiple blood spatters and body parts, as may be the case in natural disasters or on battlefields.

However, DNA experts point out some critical problems with this new methodology. First, there is no national antibody database. In contrast, CODIS (the national database that contains DNA profiles of convicted felons) was designed based on forensic DNA systems proven to positively connect a DNA sample to an identical reference sample in the database. Specifically, CODIS is known to be useful in linking DNA evidence with aresteess at the beginning of an investigation, thus making it a valuable investigative tool. Second, it has taken years for U.S. courts to accept DNA methodology as accurate, reliable and trustworthy. It is expected that antibody profiling will undergo similar extensive testing and challenges before it would be accepted in state and federal courts. Therefore, its value to the judicial system could ultimately be minimal until it undergoes years of obligatory scrutiny and evaluation in order to be proven a scientifically sound, and therefore legally admissible, method of human identification.

While antibody testing appears to have potential, DNA evidence analysis is still regarded as the gold standard in human identification for forensic purposes.

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