In the history of law enforcement, many methods have been used to determine a person's identity. Fingerprinting is probably the oldest and most common method of identification, and history tells us that so-called "camera eyes," or law enforcement officers with exceptional memories, were once used to identify previously arrested offenders by sight. Photography lessened the burden on memory, but was not the answer to the criminal identification problem, as people change physically over time.
When DNA was first used to make a conviction in the 1980s, it was hailed as vital and accurate scientific evidence for lawyers and is now widely used in courtrooms. But as accurate as DNA is, some claim it also can be pricey and time-consuming — depending on the circumstances.
So what's next in line? Federal researchers are currently developing a system of identification to be used in conjunction with, and as a screening tool for, DNA. This new method works by detecting autoantibodies present in blood and other bodily fluids. Each person has a unique antibody barcode that can be gleaned from the blood and other bodily fluids, and developers say autoantibody testing, or AbP ID, will be an accurate and cost-effective process that's simple to perform.
The technology is said to incorporate an uncomplicated testing system and innovative pattern-recognition software to expedite identifications. Because of this, it is hoped that a greater number of agencies can use it to help them make more identifications in a shorter period of time.Finally — a counter to the 'evil twin defense'
The science behind antibody testing was based on a discovery by scientist Ann-Michele Francoeur in the late 1980s. While Francoeur was doing research on autoimmune diseases, she was using control samples from people without autoimmune diseases and found that these people also had an array of autoantibodies present in their blood serum samples. More interestingly, she found that everybody houses such antibodies, and furthermore, each person's autoantibody profile was unique to that individual.
These aren't the kind of antibodies that you would expect to fight off a virus if you get it cold. Instead, they are antibodies directed against your own body — specifically your tissues, organs and cells.
"It's thought that [these antibodies] have a housekeeping role for cleaning up dead and diseased cells," says Dr. Vicki Thompson, principal investigator at Idaho National Laboratory. "When you cut yourself, your body repairs the cut, but cellular debris remains which the body must get rid of. These autoantibodies target that debris and then flush them out of your system," she says. "But, because they are targeted against your cells, that makes them unique to you."
Even identical twins who have the same DNA will have their own unique autoantibody profile. Thompson notes that in talking to some forensic labs across the country, a case occasionally comes up where someone will use the evil twin defense. Now there's a way to circumvent that — something which even DNA cannot do.Making easy work of forensic hurdles
According to Identity Sciences CEO Gene Venesky, the company believes that "AbP ID has the potential of changing the science of forensics by becoming a relevant compliment to DNA testing as well as an aid to forensic experts."
Identity Sciences also claims the tests are fast, inexpensive and efficient — all characteristics which can make or break an investigation. Compared with DNA tests, which can run up to and more than $1,000, and results can take weeks or months to come back, users can get AbP ID blood sample results in about 2 hours at a much smaller cost.
And they are so easy, a fifth-grader can do it — literally. Thompson routinely has fifth- and sixth-graders do the test with no problems whatsoever. She says that neither a lot of training nor specialized equipment is required.