Expert: Diet or drugs leave traces in DNA

Expert: Diet or drugs leave traces in DNA

Eating habits, the use of stimulants, and even playing sports can leave traces in specific places in the DNA. Biologists from the University of Lodz together with other Polish scientists are conducting research, the results of which will be used in forensic science.

DNA testing is becoming increasingly important in forensic science. They are the most effective tool for identifying individuals, but then a comparative sample of genetic material is necessary. When there is no hypothesis regarding the identity of the person from which the biological material is derived, DNA phenotyping can be helpful. It allows you to create its approximate description. This allows you to direct your search, narrow down the circle of people you are looking for.

Currently, there are algorithms for predicting gender, age, pigmentation features – eye color, hair, skin and biogeographical origin, but more features can be determined by research by scientists associated in the project “Epigenome analysis for investigative purposes – increasing the identification and detection capabilities of DNA tests”. They are to determine whether, based on genetic and epigenetic research, it is possible to indicate the type of preferred diet, the use of stimulants and the level of physical activity. All this information can be very useful in the work of the police in identifying the perpetrators of crimes.

“The lifestyle we lead affects the level of methylation in specific places in our genome. We mainly analyze changes related to increased physical activity, smoking, different levels of alcohol consumption, types of diet. We hope that thanks to this research, the analysis of the biological trace will allow to obtain important clues about the lifestyle of a given person, and we hope that the project will significantly contribute to the development of forensic research and significantly expand the detection capabilities” – explained Prof. Aneta Sitek from the Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Biology and Environmental Protection, University of Lodz.

The research, which has been ongoing since 2019, apart from scientists from the university in Łódź, also includes researchers from the Jagiellonian University, the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin and an IT company that will create a computer program based on the research results provided to predict human characteristics based on data from traces biological materials secured at the scene of the incident. The leader of the project is the Central Forensic Laboratory of the Police in Warsaw.

“We started our work by collecting blood samples and swabs from the oral mucosa in order to isolate DNA from them for further genetic and epigenetic studies” – added Prof. Sitek.

The subjects also completed a very detailed questionnaire in which they answered questions about their lifestyle. In addition, photographs and precise three-dimensional scans of the face were taken.

“All because another important goal of our project is to check whether the rate of biological aging of the body correlates with the degree of facial aging. If so, based on the biological trace, we will be able to determine whether the person the police are looking for may already be visibly gray or have significant baldness” – explained the researcher.

The research is expected to continue for another year. (PAP)

Author: Bartłomiej Pawlak


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