There are some people who will say that for home defense, you’re better off having a dog. Well, it turns out almost every cat has a unique DNA mutation detectable in their hair, and it’s offering CSI detectives an almost sure-fire way to put criminals at the scene of their crimes or their homes, provided there was a cat there.
Anyone who of course has a cat will know that it’s almost impossible to get out of their house without cat hair stuck somewhere on their clothes. Thanks to an innovative DNA analysis technique developed at the University of Leicester, this has already been used to place a murderer at the scene of their cat.
While any perpetrator will take pains to not leave any of his own DNA behind, it’s unlikely that a burglar rummaging through your home possessions will be able to avoid every last strand of cat hair.
“Hair shed by your cat lacks the hair root, so it contains very little useable DNA,” said Emily Patterson, the lead author of the study published in Forensic Science Internationa and a Leicester Ph.D. student.
“In practice we can only analyze mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mothers to their offspring, and is shared among maternally related cats.”
Patterson and her team however have now increased by ten-fold the detail with which they can analyze the mitochondrial DNA, and because virtually every cat has a rare DNA type, the test will almost certainly be informative if hairs are found.
The team tested the method in a lost cat case, according to the University of Leicester press, where DNA from the skeletal remains of a missing female cat could be matched with DNA from hair from her surviving male offspring.
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“In criminal cases where there is no human DNA available to test, pet hair is a valuable source of linking evidence, and our method makes it much more powerful,” said study co-lead, Professor of Genetics, Mark Jobling. “The same approach could also be applied to other species—in particular, dogs.”
Even while they were developing this new technique, Patterson and her team had used it in a previous murder case to identify the DNA of the perpetrator’s cat.
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