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Humans may be uniquely identified by the proteins in their hair

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Credit: Photo by Julie Russell/LLNL

Unique protein markers in hair could be used alongside DNA profiling for human identification, according to a study published September 7, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Glendon Parker from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA, and colleagues.

DNA profiling is commonly used for identification in forensic science and archaeology because DNA is unique to each individual. However, environmental and chemical processes can degrade DNA, limiting its usefulness over time. In contrast, protein is more stable than DNA but can also have variations that may be unique to the individual. Glendon Parker and his team therefore investigated whether the protein found in human hair could offer another tool for identifying individuals in forensic or archaeology scenarios.

The researchers were able to examine bioarcheological hair samples from six individuals that were up to 250 years old, demonstrating the robustness of these proteins. They analyzed these samples along with hair samples from 76 living humans of European American and African descent. They have found a total of 185 hair protein markers to date, which they estimate would be sufficient to provide a unique pattern for an individual that could distinguish that person among a population of one million.

The authors hope to identify a core set of around a hundred protein markers that would be sufficient to distinguish an individual among the entire world’s population using a single hair. The new identification technique using protein could offer another tool to law enforcement authorities for crime scene investigations and to archaeologists.

“We are in a very similar place with protein-based identification to where DNA profiling was during the early days of its development,” said LLNL chemist Brad Hart, the director of the Lab’s Forensic Science Center and co-author of a paper detailing the work. “This method will be a game-changer for forensics, and while we’ve made a lot of progress toward proving it, there are steps to go before this new technique will be able to reach its full potential.”

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In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available paper: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0160653

Citation: Parker GJ, Leppert T, Anex DS, Hilmer JK, Matsunami N, Baird L, et al. (2016) Demonstration of Protein-Based Human Identification Using the Hair Shaft Proteome. PLoS ONE 11(9): e0160653. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0160653

Funding: The authors wish to thank the Technology Commercialization Innovation Program (Contracts #121668, #132043) of the Utah Governors Office of Commercial Development, the Scholarship Activities Committee of the College of Science and Health at Utah Valley University, and Murdock Charitable Trust and NIH Grant Numbers P20RR020185 and 1P20RR024237 from the COBRE Program of the National Center for Research Resources for support of the MSU mass spectrometry facility. Part of this work was performed under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under Contract DE-AC52- 07NA27344 and subcontract B601942. The authors would like to thank the NHLBI GO Exome Sequencing Project and its ongoing studies which produced and provided exome variant calls for comparison: the Lung GO Sequencing Project (HL-102923), the WHI Sequencing Project (HL-102924), the Broad GO Sequencing Project (HL- 102925), the Seattle GO Sequencing Project (HL-102926) and the Heart GO Sequencing Project (HL-103010). Work conducted on African American and Kenyan samples was supported by National Institutes of Justice grant 2011-DN-BX-K543, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grant 2 P42 ES04699, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NIH) grant #UL1 TR000002. GJP and TL were affiliated with Protein-Based Identification Technologies LLC (PBIT). The funder provided support in the form of salaries for authors GJP and TL, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘Authors Contributions’ section.

Competing Interests: Patent based on the concept and some data presented in this study have been awarded (US 8,877,455 B2, Australian Patent 2011229918, Canadian Patent CA 2794248, and European Patent EP11759843.3, GJP inventor). The patent is owned by Parker Proteomics LLC. Protein-Based Identification Technologies LLC has an exclusive license to develop the intellectual property and is co-owned by Utah Valley University and GJP. This ownership of PBIT and associated intellectual property does not alter our adherence to PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.

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