Evaluation of the microbial wet-vacuum system (M-Vac®) for DNA sampling from rough, porous substrates, and its compatibility with fully automated platforms

Forensic Sci Int. 2024 May 29:361:112079. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2024.112079. Online ahead of print.


DNA retrieval methods traditionally used during forensic evidence recovery including swabbing and tape lifting, can have limited effectiveness when used on porous, rough substrates such as bricks and carpet. This is possibly due to the DNA material being dispersed and unreachable for surface sampling techniques. In this evaluation we investigated the effectiveness of the Microbial Wet-Vacuum System (M-Vac®; M-Vac® Systems, Inc., Sandy, UT), as it has been reported to retrieve greater amounts of DNA material from challenging exhibits. A four-stage evaluation was conducted, starting with seeding carpet and brick substrates with a known donor's saliva in two dilutions and comparing the DNA recovery of tape lifting, swabbing, and the M-Vac®. A victim struggle scenario on carpet was then mimicked to compare trace DNA recovery by each method. Two mock scenarios were also conducted; a shirt was submerged in a creek bed for a period of five days to sample for the wearer's DNA, and a car boot was sampled to assess the possibility of recovering a victim's DNA amongst background DNA from the usual car occupants. Finally, the compatibility of the M-Vac® sampling process was optimised for the fully automated DNA lysis and extraction platforms used in the NSW (Australia) jurisdiction by comparing filter subsampling methods. The results from the study were mixed. For bricks, none of the collection methods were effective in retrieving DNA. On carpet, the M-Vac® retrieved the greatest quantities of DNA from the saliva-seeded samples, however, tape lifts outperformed all methods for 'touch' DNA recovery. The M-Vac® retrieved the greatest amount of DNA from the t-shirt recovered from a creek bed as it was able to retrieve the embedded DNA. The final mock case car boot scenario resulted in greater victim DNA recovery from tape lifts, with the M-Vac® more likely to recover mixtures too weak and/or complex to be interpreted. Finally, operational considerations regarding the compatibility of the M-Vac® system with fully automated DNA lysis and extraction are discussed. Considering the substantial time and cost to deploy the M-Vac®, it is recommended to be utilised in casework only after swabbing and tape lifting methods have failed to yield sufficient DNA material, where the substrate properties would likely benefit from the M-Vac's® niche capabilities for retrieving embedded DNA, and low levels of background DNA may be anticipated.

Keywords: Brick; Carpet; DNA sub-sampling; M-Vac®; Trace DNA recovery; Vacuum centrifugation.