The Burglary Microbiome Project: Detecting Personal Microbiome Signatures at Artificial Crime Scenes

Select Science
01 Feb 2018
News / Editorial Article

Professor Jack Gilbert, Director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago, explores the value of exploiting personal microbiomes to solve crime

Professor Jack Gilbert and his team at the University of Chicago’s Microbiome Center conduct pioneering microbiome research across a variety of cultural, environmental and biological systems; from the human body, to the bottom of the ocean, to microbial communities in space. In this exclusive interview Gilbert, a professor of surgery and director of the multi-disciplinary Microbiome Center, as well as group leader in microbial ecology at the Argonne National Laboratory, gives SelectScience® a unique insight into the center’s work for the National Institute of Justice.

Quality of Evidence
The team’s research involves profiling individuals based on their unique ‘microbial fingerprint’ and has the potential to revolutionize the quality of evidence provided in criminal investigations. Gilbert explains that “there are approximately 10,000 strains of bacteria present in every individual, and the species composition that you acquire from your mother, and in the first six months of life, remains mostly stable. However, the relative proportions of species and strains are in a constant dynamic based on your experiences, like any ecosystem.” Jack’s group is employing a number of molecular sequencing techniques, such as amplicon sequencing and shotgun metagenomic sequencing, to identify specific microbial species. Based on this information, any individual’s microbiota can be profiled and used as a potential identification tool.

Research Techniques
Amplicon sequencing involves deep sequencing of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) products, where the amplified genes of interest can either be unique to one microbial domain or ubiquitously expressed by bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes. “18S ribosomal RNA is exclusively eukaryotic, whilst the 16S and 5S ribosomal gene spacer can be used to identify fungal taxa”.