Researchers Can Now Identify Someone Using Hair Proteins

Researchers can now identify someone based on the proteins in their hair, something that may last longer than the DNA prone to degradation. According to the current research — which will be refined in the future — it only takes 185 hair protein markers to identify one person amongst a larger population of a million people. While that may have somewhat limited usage, this method could one day be used to identify a single person in the entire world using one or more strands of hair.

The work was done by researchers with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and involve looking for protein markers in the hair's proteome. This could one day prove more useful than DNA, which is more readily prone to degrading in certain environmental conditions (versus hair proteins, that is). In addition to looking into hair from living volunteers, the researchers also looked at the hair from half a dozen skeleton remains that are hundreds of years old.

What they found is that in addition to the proteins themselves, the protein markers' patterns and the number that exist are also important to identifying someone. While a 185 markers can be used to identify someone from a large population, the scientists anticipate that hair protein markers may exist in large numbers — possibly up to 1000. As well, the researchers are looking into whether protein markers from teeth and bones can also be used for identification purposes.

According to the study, the team used "mass spectrometry-based shotgun proteomics" to identify 66 European-American volunteers' hair shaft protein characteristics. The study goes on to say, "A total of 596 single nucleotide polymorphism alleles were correctly imputed in 32 loci from 22 genes of subjects' DNA and directly validated using Sanger sequencing." Don't expect this method to be used by forensics professionals any time soon, though, as it still has to undergo further research.