Fighting Crime With Bacterial Fingerprinting Still Has a Ways to Go

Still, not a bad idea to wash your hands

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A new study has geeks and CSI fans excited across the blogosphere: scientists have managed to identify people by matching them to the bacterial residue on their computer keyboards and mice. The question, of course, is how likely this method is to make it into accepted forensic science anytime soon.

  • They're Going to Have to Improve Accuracy  "I certainly hope more testing is done," writes the generally politics-focused Matthew Yglesias. He points out that with the current 70-90% accuracy rate, you could test all of the roughly 600,000 people in Washington, D.C. for a match to a murder weapon and "wind up with 60,000 false positives," even assuming the higher 90% accuracy rate.
  • The Questions to Ask Now  British science writer Ed Yong lists some of the next issues in developing this technique, aside from radically increasing sample size for the experiments:
Would it work on a wide variety of surfaces, on objects that aren't touched as often as keyboards or mice, or on those that are touched by different parts of the skin? Could certain bacteria give away their owner's identity more than others? Would a database of hand bacteria be useful? And how would you deal with objects that had been touched by several people?
  • Legally, Could Take a While  "The use of DNA in a legal setting," points out Nelson King at SciTechStory, "took about three decades to be accepted, and is still under review. Certainly the use of bacterial DNA identification will take at least as long, and may in the end prove to be not reliable enough," even once the science is settled.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.