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Comparison of bacterial DNA profiles of footwear insoles and soles of feet for the forensic discrimination of footwear owners

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It is crucial to identify the owner of unattended footwear left at a crime scene. However, retrieving enough DNA for DNA profiling from the owner’s foot skin (plantar skin) cells from inside the footwear is often unsuccessful. This is sometimes because footwear that is used on a daily basis contains an abundance of bacteria that degrade DNA. Further, numerous other factors related to the inside of the shoe, such as high humidity and temperature, can encourage bacterial growth inside the footwear and enhance DNA degradation. This project sought to determine if bacteria from inside footwear could be used for footwear trace evidence. The plantar skins and insoles of shoes of volunteers were swabbed for bacteria, and their bacterial community profiles were compared using bacterial 16S rRNA terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis. Sufficient bacteria were recovered from both footwear insoles and the plantar skins of the volunteers. The profiling identified that each volunteer’s plantar skins harbored unique bacterial communities, as did the individuals’ footwear insoles. In most cases, a significant similarity in the bacterial community was identified for the matched foot/insole swabs from each volunteer, as compared with those profiles from different volunteers. These observations indicate the probability to discriminate the owner of footwear by comparing the microbial DNA fingerprint from inside footwear with that of the skin from the soles of the feet of the suspected owner. This novel strategy will offer auxiliary forensic footwear evidence for human DNA identification, although further investigations into this technique are required.

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The author thanks all of the volunteers who provided bacterial samples for this study. Special thanks to Dr. Minoru Nakazato (Lab Director of Forensic Science Division, Department of Criminal Investigation, Okinawa Prefectural Police HQ) for his encouragement during the early days of the study and to Dr. Takeshi Arakawa (Molecular Microbiology Group, Department of Tropical Infectious Diseases, COMB, Tropical Biosphere Research Center, University of the Ryukyus) for his helpful discussions on the work in this paper.

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Correspondence to Haruhisa Goga.

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Goga, H. Comparison of bacterial DNA profiles of footwear insoles and soles of feet for the forensic discrimination of footwear owners. Int J Legal Med 126, 815–823 (2012).

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