Prevalence of human cell material: DNA and RNA profiling of public and private objects and after activity scenarios

Forensic Sci Int Genet. 2016 Mar;21:81-9. doi: 10.1016/j.fsigen.2015.12.012. Epub 2015 Dec 22.


Especially when minute evidentiary traces are analysed, background cell material unrelated to the crime may contribute to detectable levels in the genetic analyses. To gain understanding on the composition of human cell material residing on surfaces contributing to background traces, we performed DNA and mRNA profiling on samplings of various items. Samples were selected by considering events contributing to cell material deposits in exemplary activities (e.g. dragging a person by the trouser ankles), and can be grouped as public objects, private samples, transfer-related samples and washing machine experiments. Results show that high DNA yields do not necessarily relate to an increased number of contributors or to the detection of other cell types than skin. Background cellular material may be found on any type of public or private item. When a major contributor can be deduced in DNA profiles from private items, this can be a different person than the owner of the item. Also when a specific activity is performed and the areas of physical contact are analysed, the "perpetrator" does not necessarily represent the major contributor in the STR profile. Washing machine experiments show that transfer and persistence during laundry is limited for DNA and cell type dependent for RNA. Skin conditions such as the presence of sebum or sweat can promote DNA transfer. Results of this study, which encompasses 549 samples, increase our understanding regarding the prevalence of human cell material in background and activity scenarios.

Keywords: Background; Body fluid identification; DNA typing; Forensic science; Persistence; Transfer; mRNA profiling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Fluids
  • DNA / analysis*
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA Contamination*
  • DNA Fingerprinting / methods*
  • Forensic Genetics / methods*
  • Humans
  • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Proteolysis
  • RNA / analysis*
  • RNA / genetics
  • RNA Stability / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Specimen Handling / methods*


  • RNA, Messenger
  • RNA
  • DNA