, Volume 124, Issue 5, pp 477-481,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 24 Jun 2009

Microbial DNA fingerprinting of human fingerprints: dynamic colonization of fingertip microflora challenges human host inferences for forensic purposes


Human fingertip microflora is transferred to touched objects and may provide forensically relevant information on individual hosts, such as on geographic origins, if endogenous microbial skin species/strains would be retrievable from physical fingerprints and would carry geographically restricted DNA diversity. We tested the suitability of physical fingerprints for revealing human host information, with geographic inference as example, via microbial DNA fingerprinting. We showed that the transient exogenous fingertip microflora is frequently different from the resident endogenous bacteria of the same individuals. In only 54% of the experiments, the DNA analysis of the transient fingertip microflora allowed the detection of defined, but often not the major, elements of the resident microflora. Although we found microbial persistency in certain individuals, time-wise variation of transient and resident microflora within individuals was also observed when resampling fingerprints after 3 weeks. While microbial species differed considerably in their frequency spectrum between fingerprint samples from volunteers in Europe and southern Asia, there was no clear geographic distinction between Staphylococcus strains in a cluster analysis, although bacterial genotypes did not overlap between both continental regions. Our results, though limited in quantity, clearly demonstrate that the dynamic fingerprint microflora challenges human host inferences for forensic purposes including geographic ones. Overall, our results suggest that human fingerprint microflora is too dynamic to allow for forensic marker developments for retrieving human information.