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Persistence of touch DNA on burglary-related tools

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Experts are increasingly concerned by issues regarding the activity level of DNA stains. A case from our burglary-related casework pointed out the need for experiments regarding the persistence of DNA when more than one person touched a tool handle. We performed short tandem repeat (STR) analyses for three groups of tools: (1) personal and mock owned tools; (2) tools, which were first “owned” by a first user and then handled in a burglary action by a second user; and (3) tools, which were first owned by a first user and then handled in a moderate action. At least three types of tool handles were included in each of the groups. Every second user handled the tool with and without gloves. In total, 234 samples were analyzed regarding profile completeness of first and second user as well as properties like detectable major profile or mixture attributes. When second users simulated a burglary by using a tool bare handed, we could not detect the first user as major component on their handles but attribute him to the stain in 1/40 cases. When second users broke up the burglary setup using gloves, the first user matched the DNA handle profile in 37% of the cases. Moderate use of mock borrowed tools demonstrated a material-dependent persistence. In total, we observed that the outcome depends mainly on the nature of contact, the handle material, and the user-specific characteristics. This study intends to supplement present knowledge about persistence of touch DNA with a special emphasis on burglary-related cases with two consecutive users and to act as experimental data for an evaluation of the relevance of alleged hypotheses, when such is needed in a court hearing.

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The authors would like to thank all volunteers who participated in the study, Julia Milan for her support in the laboratory analyses, the university’s carpenter Mr. Steeb for assembling the burglary setups, and the Central Facility for Electron Microscopy Ulm for the digital scanning micrography (Prof. Walther, Dr. Zieger, and Mr. Wey). We would like to thank the State Offices of Criminal Investigation Landeskriminalamt Baden-Württemberg (Mr. Krauß, Mr. Koch), Landeskriminalamt Rheinland-Pfalz (Mr. Kurt Schmidt), Landeskriminalamt Nordrhein-Westfalen (Dr. Kersting) as well as the police departments Ulm (Mr. Musch, Mr. Frieb), Neu-Ulm (Mr. Hirsch), Stuttgart (Mr. Freier), Biberach (Mr. Gaier), Esslingen (Mr. Röder), Semler Fenster + Schreinerei (Mr. Semler), and Roto Frank AG (Mr. Barck) for their thankful information about burglary statistics and procedure.

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Correspondence to Céline M. Pfeifer.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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This article does not contain any ties with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent: Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in this study.

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Pfeifer, C.M., Wiegand, P. Persistence of touch DNA on burglary-related tools. Int J Legal Med 131, 941–953 (2017).

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