Amino acids in human hair could help better identify perpetrators of crimes and their victims, according to new research led by a West Virginia University scientist.

Currently, when a DNA sample is collected at a crime scene, the sample is run through a database in an effort to secure a match. The challenge comes when the hair evidence does not contain the root—which contains the nuclear DNA—or when no matching sample exists in the database.

“If you do not have a known, the DNA analysis is literally useless,” said Glen Jackson, Ming Hsieh Distinguished Professor of Forensic and Investigative Science at WVU and lead investigator on the project that is now funded through a grant from the National Institute of Justice.

Jackson’s research, using the chemical makeup of human hair, would enable analysts to make educated determinations about a person with a high degree of confidence.

“The ability to be able to tell three or four things about a person based on these chemical measurements could provide an investigative lead, even if an individual’s DNA is not in a database,” Jackson said. “We can still know something about the person.”

Jackson has already successfully classified groups of individuals by Body Mass Index and age, as described in a manuscript currently in press in the journal “Science and Justice.”

“Having an idea of what age a person is can dramatically increase the chance that a suspect is identified. For example, If we can say there’s a 90-percent chance this person is over the age of 45—that could be really helpful, because most crimes are committed by younger people,” Jackson said.

Jackson recently became a member of the Forensic Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry Network, a network whose applications include using isotopes to identify the geographic origin of victims or suspects who do not have a DNA profile in a database. He will serve as chair of a national forensic mass spectrometry conference in January 2015.

Before to moving to WVU in 2012, Jackson was an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio University, where he served as director of the forensic chemistry program for three years.
His research includes mass spectrometry instrumentation development, forensic and biological applications of mass spectrometry and isotope ratio mass spectrometry. His research has appeared in more than 40 publications, more than 100 conference and university presentations and two issued patents. In 2007, he was awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

He has taught several forensic-related mass spectrometry workshops to practicing forensic professionals, has served on several forensic education committees and workshops and is an active forensic chemistry consultant. He has appeared on Nancy Grace Live and his published research on trace human remains was once covered in an episode of “Law and Order SVU.”

For more information about Jackson’s research, contact Glen Jackson at 304-293-9236 or



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