Microbiomes Might Be the New Way to Fingerprint


Fingerprints has been part of forensic investigating for decades now. It is possible that there is now a new approach to forensic science, microbiomes. Similar to a fingerprint, colonies of microbes that live on the body and the skin and an individual’s gut bacteria can now function as a distinctive identifier. This new way to identify a human can vary greatly depending on the person’s diet, age, overall health and even their geographic location. Just how identifiable a person can be based on their microorganisms was investigated by Harvard University. “We have shown the same kind of linking is entirely possible using DNA progression from microbes within the human body without any human DNA being a required.” Was stated by the Harvard researcher in the Department of Bio-statistics, lead author Eric Franzosa.

Stool samples were shown to be the most reliable source of identification. Scientists have found that a person’s gut bacteria could be identified after one year in up to 86 percent of the people in the study pool. The studies of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that skin samples were the least reliable in the identification process. Only about one-third of the samples could be matched to someone after a year. With this microbiomes study, There were very few false positives. Even if these samples were not a match or if they were a match, they rarely identified the incorrect person. The Human Microbiome Project or HMP was based on a study with a gathering of 120 people along with the 242 individuals that had donated their stool, skin and saliva samples for over a month. Those samples collected remain in a public database for researching purposes only.

Individual codes were fabricated based on each donors microbiomes on a computer algorithm. After these codes were compared to those people’s samples in the pool of strangers, the studies showed by research, that it is entirely possible to match human microbiomes through a database. By doing so, this may run interference by exposing a person’s personal subject statistics. For example, the database may show that an individual may have the presences of a sexual transmitted disease without the person’s consent or their own DNA. Other issues may present themselves when a person’s microbiome is disturbed. Certain medical conditions, such as, bowel inflammation could take place. Microbiome, particularly in the gut associates with conditions, for instance, food allergies, asthma, Parkinson’s disease and the production of serotonin.

Even though the potential of this is quite low, it is very important for the researchers to be well aware and to understand that it is seemingly possible for the data privacy concerns to be surface with microbial DNA. The concerns with a person’s health in jeopardy must also be taken into consideration. An associate professor of computational biology at Harvard Chan and senior author, Curtis Huttenhower is convinced that the other details pertaining to their research is more interesting. Huttenhower insinuated that conceivingly even more exciting are the procedures of the testing for microbial bionomics, since it says that our unique microbial tenants are adapted to the domain of our body, our diet, genetics and development in such a way that they bind with each of us and help to take care of unwelcomed microbial invaders. More research needs to be done in order to get scientific facts and new findings for a less harmful way to go about this. Microbiomes may take the place of fingerprints for forensic investigators in the near future.

By Ginger Orner


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