Forensic Applications of Microbiomics: A Review

Jake Robinson, Zohar Pasternak, Christopher Mason, Eran Elhaik

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

The rise of microbiomics and metagenomics has been driven by advances in genomic sequencing technology, improved microbial sampling methods, and fast-evolving approaches in bioinformatics. Humans are a host to diverse microbial communities in and on their bodies, which continuously interact with and alter the surrounding environments. Since information relating to these interactions can be extracted by analyzing human and environmental microbial profiles, they have the potential to be relevant to forensics. In this review, we analyzed over 100 papers describing forensic microbiome applications with emphasis on geolocation, personal identification, trace evidence, manner and cause of death, and inference of the postmortem interval (PMI). We found that although the field is in its infancy, utilizing microbiome and metagenome signatures has the potential to enhance the forensic toolkit. However, many of the studies suffer from limited sample sizes and model accuracies, and unrealistic environmental settings, leaving the full potential of microbiomics to forensics unexplored. It is unlikely that the information that can currently be elucidated from microbiomics can be used by law enforcement. Nonetheless, the research to overcome these challenges is ongoing, and it is foreseeable that microbiome-based evidence could contribute to forensic investigations in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Article number608101
Number of pages13
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Volume11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • forensic microbiology
  • forensic science
  • metagenomics
  • microbial forensics
  • microbiome
  • microbiomics
  • postmortem interval

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