International Journal of Legal Medicine

, Volume 133, Issue 3, pp 759–765 | Cite as

Unintentional effects of cleaning a crime scene—when the sponge becomes an accomplice in DNA transfer

  • Janine Helmus
  • Manuel Pfeifer
  • Laura-Kim Feiner
  • Laura Jasmin Krause
  • Thomas Bajanowski
  • Micaela PoetschEmail author
Short Communication


DNA transfer in aqueous solutions as well as the persistence of DNA on washed items has become a major subject of research in recent years and is often a significant problem in court. Despite these approaches, the question about the “mobility” of DNA especially in capital offenses cannot be answered in every case, since a variety of scenarios for DNA transfer are possible. The aim of this study was to investigate whether DNA traces could be distributed by cleaning an object. For this purpose, a large table surface and fabric piece were artificially provided with skin contact traces and body fluids (saliva and blood) in two series of experiments and then wiped off with water or with soap water (218 samples in total). These experiments resulted in a clear “carry over” of DNA traces especially for body fluid samples (100% of blood samples and 75% of saliva samples led to a complete profile). The results could be confirmed in a second experimental set-up with 384 samples using different cleaning agents and more intense cleaning actions. Even small amounts of 5–10 μl body fluid led to complete profiles in around 45% of the samples, while 20 μl led to nearly 65% complete profiles. A strong impact of the amount of traces and the chosen surface could be demonstrated, while the active component of the cleaning agent seemed to be of less influence with the explicit exception of chloric agents which rendered almost everything completely DNA-free. In summary, a distribution of DNA traces by wiping or scrubbing an object could be clearly proven.


Persistence of DNA Cleaning Cleaning agents Clothing STR analysis Low copy number DNA 


Compliance with ethical standards

All samples were obtained after informed consent and with the approval of the Medical Ethics Committee at the University of Duisburg-Essen in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki and national laws.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

414_2018_1983_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1 mb)
Figure S1-S3 (DOCX 1026 kb)
414_2018_1983_MOESM2_ESM.docx (20 kb)
ESM 1 Information for the different cleaning agents (DOCX 19 kb)
414_2018_1983_MOESM3_ESM.docx (57 kb)
Table S1 (DOCX 57 kb)


  1. 1.
    Fonnelop AE, Egeland T, Gill P (2015) Secondary and subsequent DNA transfer during criminal investigation. Forensic Sci Int Genet 17:155–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Goray M, van Oorschot RA, Mitchell JR (2012) DNA transfer within forensic exhibit packaging: potential for DNA loss and relocation. Forensic Sci Int Genet 6:158–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Meakin G, Jamieson A (2013) DNA transfer: review and implications for casework. Forensic Sci Int Genet 7:434–443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Szkuta B, Harvey ML, Ballantyne KN, van Oorschot RA (2015) DNA transfer by examination tools--a risk for forensic casework? Forensic Sci Int Genet 16:246–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Helmus J, Zorell S, Bajanowski T, Poetsch M (2017) Persistence of DNA on clothes after exposure to water for different time periods-a study on bathtub, pond, and river. Int J Legal Med 132:99–106Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Lowe A, Murray C, Whitaker J, Tully G, Gill P (2002) The propensity of individuals to deposit DNA and secondary transfer of low level DNA from individuals to inert surfaces. Forensic Sci Int 129:25–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Phipps M, Petricevic S (2007) The tendency of individuals to transfer DNA to handled items. Forensic Sci Int 168:162–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Kamphausen T, Schadendorf D, von Wurmb-Schwark N, Bajanowski T, Poetsch M (2012) Good shedder or bad shedder-the influence of skin diseases on forensic DNA analysis from epithelial abrasions. Int J Legal Med 126:179–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Poetsch M, Bajanowski T, Kamphausen T (2013) Influence of an individual's age on the amount and interpretability of DNA left on touched items. Int J Legal Med 127:1093–1096CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Daly DJ, Murphy C, McDermott SD (2012) The transfer of touch DNA from hands to glass, fabric and wood. Forensic Sci Int Genet 6:41–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Goray M, Eken E, Mitchell RJ, van Oorschot RA (2010) Secondary DNA transfer of biological substances under varying test conditions. Forensic Sci Int Genet 4:62–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Raymond JJ, van Oorschot RA, Gunn PR, Walsh SJ, Roux C (2009) Trace evidence characteristics of DNA: A preliminary investigation of the persistence of DNA at crime scenes. Forensic Sci Int Genet 4:26–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Mushtaq S, Rasool N, Firiyal S (2016) Detection of dry bloodstains on different fabrics after washing with commercially available detergents. Aust J Forensic Sci 48:87–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Salahuddin Z, Yasir Zahoor M, Kalsoom S, Rakha A (2018) You can’t hide encoded evidence: DNA recovery from different fabrics after washing. Aust J Forensic Sci 50:355–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Kamphausen T, Fandel SB, Gutmann JS, Bajanowski T, Poetsch M (2015) Everything clean? Transfer of DNA traces between textiles in the washtub. Int J Legal Med 129:709–714CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Kulstein G, Wiegand P (2018) Comprehensive examination of conventional and innovative body fluid identification approaches and DNA profiling of laundered blood- and saliva-stained pieces of cloths. Int J Legal Med 132:67–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Brayley-Morris H, Sorrell A, Revoir AP, Meakin GE, Court DS, Morgan RM (2015) Persistence of DNA from laundered semen stains: Implications for child sex trafficking cases. Forensic Sci Int Genet 19:165–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Edler C, Gehl A, Kohwagner J, Walther M, Krebs O, Augustin C, Klein A (2017) Erratum to: Blood trace evidence on washed textiles - a systematic approach. Int J Legal Med 131:1191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Edler C, Gehl A, Kohwagner J, Walther M, Krebs O, Augustin C, Klein A (2017) Blood trace evidence on washed textiles - a systematic approach. Int J Legal Med 131:1179–1189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Schwark T, Poetsch M, Preusse-Prange A, Kamphausen T, von Wurmb-Schwark N (2012) Phantoms in the mortuary--DNA transfer during autopsies. Forensic Sci Int 216:121–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Szkuta B, Oorschot R, Ballantyne KN (2017) DNA decontamination of fingerprint brushes. Forensic Sci Int 277:41–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Castello A, Frances F, Corella D, Verdu F (2009) Active oxygen doctors the evidence. Naturwissenschaften 96:303–307CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Castello A, Frances F, Verdu F (2012) Chemistry in crime investigation: sodium percarbonate effects on bloodstains detection. J Forensic Sci 57:500–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Poetsch M, Konrad H, Helmus J, Bajanowski T, von Wurmb-Schwark N (2016) Does zero really mean nothing?-first experiences with the new PowerQuant (TM) system in comparison to established real-time quantification kits. Int J Legal Med 130:935–940CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Poetsch M, Bayer K, Ergin Z, Milbrath M, Schwark T, von Wurmb-Schwark N (2011) First experiences using the new Powerplex(R) ESX17 and ESI17 kits in casework analysis and allele frequencies for two different regions in Germany. Int J Legal Med 125:733–739CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Verdon TJ, Mitchell RJ, van Oorschot RA (2013) The influence of substrate on DNA transfer and extraction efficiency. Forensic Sci Int Genet 7:167–175CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Goray M, Mitchell RJ, van Oorschot RA (2010) Investigation of secondary DNA transfer of skin cells under controlled test conditions. Leg Med (Tokyo) 12:117–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Helmus J, Bajanowski T, Poetsch M (2016) DNA transfer-a never ending story. A study on scenarios involving a second person as carrier. Int J Legal Med 130:121–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    van Oorschot RA, McArdle R, Goodwin WH, Ballantyne KN (2014) DNA transfer: The role of temperature and drying time. Leg Med (Tokyo) 16:161–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Wiegand P, Heimbold C, Klein R, Immel U, Stiller D, Klintschar M (2011) Transfer of biological stains from different surfaces. Int J Legal Med 125:727–731CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Buckingham AK, Harvey ML, van Oorschot RA (2016) The origin of unknown source DNA from touched objects. Forensic Sci Int Genet 25:26–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Lehmann VJ, Mitchell RJ, Ballantyne KN, van Oorschot RA (2015) Following the transfer of DNA: How does the presence of background DNA affect the transfer and detection of a target source of DNA? Forensic Sci Int Genet 19:68–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Legal MedicineUniversity Hospital EssenEssenGermany

Personalised recommendations