During my PhD at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) I developed a new soil DNA technique for use in real-life forensic casework. The study, now published in Forensic Science International, has shown that DNA identification of the fungi, plants, and bugs in small samples of soil can link a person to a particular location.
The project, co-funded by the Australian Research Council and the Australian Federal Police, created a mock crime scene to mimic the disappearance and recovery of a woman’s remains. A shovel was used to dig a shallow grave before being placed into a car boot alongside shoes worn at the time.
Six weeks later, the DNA of the fungus, plants, and bugs living in the soil stuck to the shoes and shovel was recovered, and compared to DNA detected in soils from multiple other locations across South Australia. The unique signature of fungus, plants, and bugs placed the soil samples recovered from the shoes and shovel just meters from the crime scene. This study is one of the first to demonstrate that new genomic methods can be used in real-life applications to track criminals weeks later and accurately place them at crime scenes. Our murderer has a lot more explaining to do! Continue reading