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Forensic Magazine, November 22, 2023: Field Tests Highlight the Value of Dust as Forensic Evidence

The airborne fraction of soil, or dust, contains biological and chemical "signatures," which act as a fingerprint to a specific location.

Australian forensic science experts, led by Flinders University, have highlighted the usefulness of the latest technology by testing a series of field sites in South Australia for their unique chemical and biological profiles.

This work is strong evidence for including dust as a medium in forensic intelligence gathering to incorporate as a standard tool in future forensic casework,  the scientists say in a new study published in an international journal

Previous research, including experts at the Forensic DNA Laboratory at Flinders University, has established the viability of testing even the smallest trace of dust, down to only 3 mg, as potential evidence of the location or source of material, personal effect or an object.

“Dust is found everywhere. It stays on clothing and items after you have travelled and leaves a trace for where you have been,” said Flinders University forensic science researcher Nicole Foster, who currently is a researcher at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Institute. “Armed with this knowledge, we undertook a field experiment, leaving items at various locations in South Australia to collect dust and observe whether these chemical and biological (bacteria and fungi) signatures were distinct between sites. We found that the dust recovered from each item contained chemical and biological profiles that were unique to sites but these profiles were variable within sites and over time. This work is a proof of concept for using dust as a medium in forensic intelligence but more work needs to be done before integrating this tool for forensic casework.”


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