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Fingerprints can reveal Sex, Race and Lifestyle

Posted by shadmia on August 5, 2007


The majority of us have been fingerprinted at some point in time. It is the definitive way of proving who you are. Law enforcement makes extensive use of fingerprints in the criminal justice system, whether to identify convicts or to determine who has committed a crime. They are also required for security clearance and official documents. However until now they have only been used in a comparative sense. Your fingerprints are compared to a copy in some database. If they match then your identity is confirmed.

Fingerprints involve three distinct features: arches, loops and whorls. They are formed in a developing fetus from about the 17th week of pregnancy and remain consistent from that time on. Scientists are still not sure how they are formed. For more information on the developmental process click here.

Fingerprints have never been used to determine any other characteristics like age, sex or race……until now. Scientists have shown that using a gelatine-based gel and high-tech chemical analysis can provide significant clues to a person’s identity even if police do not hold existing fingerprint records. The new method can detect tiny traces of substances such as gunpowder, drugs, or biological or chemical weapons. It may also determine the time (accurate to within one hour) a set of fingerprints were left at a crime scene.

Prof Sergei Kazarian, from Imperial College London’s Department of Chemical Engineering, led the team that developed the new technique. The findings are detailed in the Aug. 1 issue of the journal Analytical Chemistry. Read the article here Spectroscopic Imaging of Latent Fingermarks

The gel tape can gather prints from a variety of surfaces, including door handles, mug handles, curved glass and computer screens, just as conventional fingerprint techniques can. The gelatin is then irradiated with infrared rays inside a highly sensitive instrument that rapidly takes a kind of “chemical photograph,” identifying molecules within the print in 30 seconds or less, said physical chemist Sergei Kazarian

Fingerprints contain just a few millionths of a gram of fluid, or roughly the same amount of material in a grain of sand. That might, however, be enough to determine valuable clues about a person beyond the print itself, such as their gender, race, diet and lifestyle, Kazarian and his colleagues find.

Strong traces of urea, a chemical found in urine, suggested a man left the print. Lower levels of the chemical made it more likely to be from a women.

Specific amino acids indicated whether the “suspect” was a vegetarian or meat-eater, and different fatty acid profiles suggested provided clues to their racial origins.

By focusing on what is left in a fingerprint after periods of time, scientists could potentially gauge how old a crime scene is.

The use of this new technique could also minimize false positives in identifying fingerprint owners. One such example of false positives happened to Brandon Mayfield, who in 2004, who was falsely accused of being involved in the Madrid train bombings. FBI investigators matched prints at the scene to Mayfield, and an independent examiner verified the match. But Spanish National Police examiners insisted the prints did not match Mayfield and eventually identified another man who matched the prints. The FBI acknowledged the error and Mayfield was released. Studies have shown an error rate of 0.8 percent in matching prints. Multiplied across all cases processed by U.S. crime labs in 2002, that would be 1,900 mistaken fingerprint matches. For more details click here



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One Response to “Fingerprints can reveal Sex, Race and Lifestyle”

  1. So Scary, yet so Real!!!

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