Now, cat fur to help police nab criminals

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Washington, March 20 (ANI): A new research paper indicates that an international team of scientists has established an extensive DNA database that will permit cat fur to be used more often and accurately as forensic evidence.

"The increasing popularity of the domestic cat as a household pet has unknowingly fostered the distribution of potential crime scene evidence across millions of households," according to Robert Grahn, lead author of the research paper.

"Cat fur obtained from a crime scene has the potential to link perpetrators, accomplices, witnesses and victims," he added.

"Cats are fastidious groomers, and shed fur can have sufficient genetic material for trace forensic studies, allowing potential analysis of both standard short tandem repeat (STR) and mitochondrial DNA regions," according to researchers.

The new database focuses on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is genetic material inherited from one's mother.

Mitochondrial DNA is useful in forensics primarily due to two properties.

First, it has a high mutation rate, permitting more individuality between samples.

Second, its genes exist in high amounts, even though mtDNA comprises less than 1 percent of the total DNA within a cell.

While nuclear DNA is optimal for identifying individuals, mtDNA has proven to be a good alternate choice.

Grahn, a scientist in the Department of Population Health and Reproduction in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California at Davis, and his team collected DNA samples from hundreds of cats from 25 distinct worldwide populations and 26 breeds.

The samples came from drawn blood, cheek swabs and tissues collected during routine spay and neuter surgeries.

A prior study documented 174 mtDNA cat sequences. Together, the research has produced an extensive database consisting of 1,394 cat sequences that could be used by criminal investigators.

Grahn and his team point out that, aside from such mtDNA matching, nuclear DNA may also be found on cat hairs that still retain their root bulbs, or on skin particles that might stick to the oily fur when cats groom themselves.

These natural oils, along with static electricity and the sheer volume of fur, mean that people who enter a property with a resident cat are like fur magnets.

It is almost impossible to avoid having one or more cat furs cling to skin, clothing, shoes, bags and more.

"An assailant may unknowingly carry clinging cat hairs from a victim's cat away from the scene of a crime, or hair from the perpetrator's cat may be left at the scene," according to John Butler, a researcher and group leader at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and his team.

"Either scenario may provide a crucial link and help solve an important case," they added. (ANI)

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