The influences of dusty environments on the STR typing success of post-detonation touch DNA samples

Belinda Martin, Todd Kaesler, K. Paul Kirkbride, Adrian Linacre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

As the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in a broad spectrum of offences continues, it is vital that research is performed to assess the capabilities of the forensic DNA profiling technology currently available to provide information as to potential perpetrators. This work investigates some of the most important gaps in our understanding surrounding the poor success rates in DNA profiling obtained through the sampling of touch DNA on post-detonation IED samples. It has been previously suggested that the use of Diamond™ Nucleic Acid Dye may fix cells to a surface, therefore reducing the effect of an experimental process to remove or damage those cells. This was found not to be the case for samples undergoing a detonation as there was no difference in the resultant post-detonation profiles between the stained samples, stained prior to detonation, and unstained samples. The comparison of data from previously performed research, within an enclosed explosives chamber, to real-world outdoor detonation events in a rural and dusty environment was investigated. It was found that there was a significant difference between the environments for the aluminium but not for the battery or electrical tape substrates indicating that environment has the potential to influence STR success through the introduction of PCR inhibitors; humic acid within rural natural dust was introduced here. No difference was observed in cell loss due to the detonation between environments and the dirt within the PCR was higher in the ‘outdoor’ samples. The effect on cellular retention and damage due to the sample's distance from the charge has been thoroughly investigated through incremental 100 mm exposure. Distance from the charge was found to affect every metric analysed; these being the cell loss from samples, the number of alleles amplified in resultant direct PCR profiles, and the total RFU of the subsequent profiles. These data outline the importance of this work allowing results to be assessed and triage decisions be made accordingly. The analysis of wood, PVC pipe, a mobile phone with rubber buttons, a SIM card, and a circuit board showed that none of these samples at 400 mm from the charge caused substrate specific PCR inhibition. On-site collection teams do not need to triage collection based on these sample types as there was no significant difference observed in their ability to return DNA profiling data. Surface area and inhibitor presence are key variables to consider when determining STR processing workflow for post-detonation samples as for samples with larger surface areas within the outdoor environment PCR post-extraction is preferential to direct PCR.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102651
Number of pages12
JournalForensic Science International: Genetics
Volume57
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Keywords

  • Counterterrorism
  • Detonation
  • Direct PCR
  • Forensic science
  • Improvised explosive device
  • STR profiling

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