Scientists are refining an innovative counter-terrorism technique that checks for environmental DNA in the dust on clothing, baggage, shoes or even a passport.
Environmental DNA or eDNA is DNA that is collected from a variety of environmental samples such as soil, seawater, snow or even air rather than directly sampled from an individual organism.
According to the study, published in the journal Forensic Science International, the research team developed a system to trace the source of dust on suspect articles to match a soil profile of a specific area or overseas country.
"This could help provide evidence of where a person of interest might have travelled based on the environmental DNA signature from dust on their belongings," said study author Jennifer Young from the Flinders University in Australia.
"This microscopic environmental trace evidence, based on soil geochemical, bacterial and fungal analysis would complement and enhance current forensic intelligence tools," Young added.
InFoDust: The intelligence and forensic potential of dust traces for counter-terrorism and national security, led by Young, will put the new technique on trial with soil reference data from across Australia provided by partner Geoscience Australia.
This project will utilise a series of soils with contrasting properties to understand the relationship between soil biogeochemical signals and the derived dust signal under controlled conditions, before introducing environmental variables through an 'in-situ' experiment.
The researchers said that environmental samples serve as ideal forms of contact trace evidence as detection at a scene can establish a link between a suspect, location and victim.
"Environment samples extracted via the 'massively parallel sequencing' technology provide biological signatures from complex DNA mixtures and trace amounts of low biomass samples," they wrote.