02:21am Tuesday 21 November 2017

Bite mark bacteria provide potential forensic clues

Dental Technology - teeth in hands

Bite marks are often left on human skin following assaults, particularly in sexually motivated attacks but Dr Geoffrey Tompkins, a molecular microbiologist and senior lecturer at the School, says evidence based on the morphometric examination of the shape and size of those marks is increasingly being challenged in criminal courts.

“Bite marks have been used as evidence using morphometric analysis but there is no scientific evidence that people have unique dentition and there has always been some subjective element in matching bite marks to teeth” he says.

“But it appears that each person’s mouth has a unique collection of bacteria with their own distinct genotype, so the bacterial DNA profiles could potentially be matched and used as evidence.”

The dental school has now had a series of undergraduate dental summer studentships that have taken this concept and explored it.

Dr Tompkins says one of the potential problems is that oral bacteria don’t live for long outside the mouth, but a recently published paper by student Lillian Hsu showed that the DNA of dead streptococci can be recovered from bite marks to produce DNA profiles.

The technique used left potential for false positives but a more recent, as yet unpublished project, by Otago PhD candidate Darnell Kennedy, successfully used a more sophisticated means of DNA analysis.

“It is a much more accurate means of testing and much more robust statistically,” says Dr Tompkins.

The summer studentships have allowed the dental students involved to get a taste of molecular microbiology research.

Dr Tompkins says the latest findings are the third publication of research findings by undergraduate dental students exploring this concept at the School of Dentistry.

“I am extremely proud of the efforts of these students. To complete such projects in just 10 weeks and then get them published in scientific journals is quite an achievement.”

For further information contact

Dr Geoffrey Tompkins
Faculty of Dentistry
University of Otago
Tel 643 4795471


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