Determination of VOC marker combinations for the classification of individuals by gender and race/ethnicity

Forensic Sci Int. 2017 Jan;270:193-199. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2016.09.011. Epub 2016 Oct 12.


Human scent has been demonstrated to allow for the differentiation of individuals. The extent of this differentiation may allow scent to be used as a characteristic, capable of revealing information on an individual's traits. The ability to use scent as a biometric human feature has enabled the use of scent as forensic evidence. However, its reliability, value, and admissibility in courts of law have sometimes been challenged as a result of limited scientific validation. Full acceptance of human scent evidence has been hindered by the limited availability of peer reviewed information that provides greater understanding of how human scent originates and how it may be used. The objective of this study is to report new data that further enhances our understanding of the value of human scent evidence and its acceptance in courts of law. In order to fulfill this objective, volatile organic compound combinations were identified as markers for race/ethnicity and gender from hand odor samples from 105 individuals. The accuracy of human classification by race/ethnicity and gender, on the basis of these markers, was determined and validated. Overall accuracies of 80% and 72% were obtained for the classification of subjects by gender and race/ethnicity, respectively. The results obtained demonstrate that the identified VOC marker combinations represent a viable resource for the classification and/or differentiation of persons of interest and, as such, may be considered a valuable forensic tool for subject identification.

Keywords: Forensic chemistry; Hand odor; Human scent; Scent markers; Solid Phase Micro-extraction (SPME); Volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Continental Population Groups
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Odorants / analysis*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sex Factors
  • Solid Phase Microextraction
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis*
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Volatile Organic Compounds