Pet ‘furensics’: DNA evidence passing from people to dogs can help solve crimes

ADELAIDE, Australia — When it comes to pups and police, most people immediately think of drug or bomb-sniffing dogs at airports and other high-security locations. Now, researchers from Flinders University say there’s an unexpected new way dogs may be able to help fight crime — providing crucial DNA evidence in police investigations!

The new research, conducted in Victoria and South Australia, opens the door for new opportunities when it comes to the use of DNA to assist in criminal investigations. More specifically, this work is expanding modern science’s understanding of the presence and transfer of human DNA on pets such as dogs (and cats).

Flinders University researcher Heidi Monkman, in collaboration with Roland van Ooorschot from the Victoria Police Forensic Services Department and Bianca Szkuta from Deakin University, collected human DNA from a group of 20 pet dogs of various breeds from numerous households.

This preliminary study ended up revealing that human DNA can indeed be retrieved from all areas of dogs, although some of those areas consistently provided more DNA than other spots, such as the head and back.

petting dog
(Photo by Kampus Production from Pexels)

“This study demonstrated that human DNA can be transferred to dogs upon contact by a person’s hand and that it can be transferred from dogs to a contacting surface, such as during patting and walking,” says first author Heidi Monkman, from Flinders University’s College of Science and Engineering, in a media release.

“This information may assist those investigating criminal acts in which dogs are involved to consider situations in which it may be useful to sample for human DNA from a dog. It also showed that investigators may need to consider dogs as a vector for indirect transfer of human DNA within particular scenarios.”

Besides just dog owners, and others living in the same house, researchers also found DNA from various unknown sources. These discoveries warrant further investigations.

Animals living in domestic environments may either be a victim, offenders, or innocent parties associated with a crime. However, scientists currently have a very limited knowledge base when it comes to human DNA transfer, persistence, prevalence, and recovery (DNA TPPR) in connection with domestic animals, the research team explains.

Additional work on the transfer of human DNA to and from companion animals and pets is already being conducted at Flinders University as part of an ongoing effort to build more understanding and provide more data to assist both forensic investigators and legal arbiters.

The study is published in the journal Genes.

You might also be interested in:

YouTube video