Integrating the microbiome as a resource in the forensics toolkit
Clarke TH, Gomez A, Singh H, Nelson KE, Brinkac LM
The introduction of DNA fingerprinting to forensic science rapidly expanded the available evidence that could be garnered from a crime scene and used in court cases. Next generation sequencing technologies increased available genetic data that could be used as evidence by orders of magnitude, and as such, significant additional genetic information is now available for use in forensic science. This includes DNA from the bacteria that live in and on humans, known as the human microbiome. Next generation sequencing of the human microbiome demonstrates that its bacterial DNA can be used to uniquely identify an individual, provide information about their life and behavioral patterns, determine the body site where a sample came from, and estimate postmortem intervals. Bacterial samples from the environment and objects can also be leveraged to address similar questions about the individual(s) who interacted with them. However, the applications of this new field in forensic sciences raises concerns on current methods used in sample processing, including sample collection, storage, and the statistical power of published studies. These areas of human microbiome research need to be fully addressed before microbiome data can become a regularly incorporated evidence type and routine procedure of the forensic toolkit. Here, we summarize information on the current status of microbiome research as applies to the forensic field, the mathematical models used to make predictions, and the possible legal and practical difficulties that can limit the application of microbiomes in forensic science.