Success Story: Forensic Epigenetics – Markers for the Identification of Body Fluids

Success Story: Forensic Epigenetics – Markers for the Identification of Body Fluids

National Institute of Justice and Florida International University


February 2018


The identification of body fluids recovered from crime scenes can provide valuable information to further aid investigations. The biological origin of body fluids can facilitate the identification of donors and reconstruction of crime scenes. Current methods used in operational forensic laboratories to identify body fluids lack sensitivity and specificity (e.g. immunological, microscopic, chemical). As such, there is a need in the field to develop easy, reliable, and robust tests for body fluid identification.

Dr. Bruce McCord at Florida International University (FIU) and colleagues at the University of Southern Mississippi are investigating the role of epigenetic modification in the specific characterization of different body fluids. Epigenetic modification refers to changes in gene expression not attributed to changes in genetic material. Dr. McCord has identified DNA methylation patterns and subsequently developed epigenetic methylation markers for the detection of different tissue types present in body fluids and dried stains recovered from crime scenes. A method developed using those markers provides clear, quantitative results and has been shown to effectively distinguish between tissue types, with the added benefit of sample stability over time. The markers and methods from this research can be applied to establishing the source identity of single and mixed biofluids at crime scenes.

“Our laboratory is excited about DNA epigenetic markers as they offer the possibility of an objective confirmation of what cell type the DNA profile is originating from. If proven, the methodology could replace traditional serological approaches to body fluid confirmation.”

- Mark Powell M.Sc., F-ABC | Crime Lab Manager, San Francisco Police Department

Funding for this Forensic Technology Center of Excellence success story was provided by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this success story are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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