Forensics, forensic science, LLNL | Homeland Security Newswire

ForensicsUsing proteins from bones to identify people

Published 22 May 2018

When a team of researchers led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) developed a new biological identification method that exploits information encoded in proteins, they thought it could have multiple applications. Nearly two years later, they’ve turned out to be right. One possible important application for using protein markers from human bones could be to help determine the identity of partial remains from catastrophic events, such as plane crashes, fires or the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

When a team of researchers led by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) developed a new biological identification method that exploits information encoded in proteins, they thought it could have multiple applications.

Nearly two years later, they’ve turned out to be right.

In September 2016, LLNL scientists announced they had developed a science-based, statistically validated way to use protein markers from human hair to identify people and link individuals to evidence.

LLNL says that now they’ve found a second way to use protein markers from human tissue for identification — this time from bones. Their work is described in a paper published online by Forensic Science International, an Amsterdam-based journal.

“One of the most exciting aspects of this research is that it seeks to provide a completely new objective methodology for human identification,” said LLNL chemist Brad Hart, the director of LLNL’s Forensic Science Center and a co-author of the paper.

“It is critical that the forensic science community expand the suite of objective tools available that allow for forensic results to be expressed with statistical rigor. Expanding the proteomic approach to include bone tissue promises greater potential for determining the identity of remains recovered from challenging environments and circumstances.”

The new protein marker technology addresses a 2009 National Research Council report on forensic science that detailed the weaknesses of many current approaches and reported an urgent need for new science-based forensic methods. 

Livermore researchers view the protein marker advance as an additional tool for the forensic science community and a complement to DNA, which is the gold standard for human identification, but fragile in several ways.