11.04.2023 change 11.04.2023

Diet and stimulants leave traces in your DNA, says expert

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Eating habits, the use of stimulants, and even playing sports can leave traces in specific places in the DNA. Biologists from the University of Lodz together with other Polish scientists are conducting research, the results of which can be used in forensic science.

DNA testing is becoming increasingly important in forensic science. It is the most effective tool for identifying individuals, but a comparative genetic material sample is necessary. When there is no hypothesis as to the identity of the person, from which the biological material originates, DNA phenotyping can help. It helps to create its approximate description. This, in turn, allows scientists to direct the search and narrow down the group of suspects.

Algorithms currently exist for predicting gender, age, pigmentation (eye, hair and skin colour), biogeographical origin, but more features can be determined thanks to the research of scientists working on the project 'Epigenome analysis for investigative purposes - increasing the identification and detection capabilities of DNA tests'. 

Their goal is to determine whether, based on genetic and epigenetic research, it is possible to determine the type of preferred diet, the use of stimulants and the level of physical activity. All this information can be very useful in the work of the police in identifying the perpetrators of crimes.

Professor Aneta Sitek from the Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Biology and Environmental Protection, University of Lodz said: “The lifestyle we lead affects the level of methylation in specific places in our genome. We mainly analyse changes related to increased physical activity, smoking, various levels of alcohol consumption, types of diet. We hope that thanks to this research, the analysis of the biological footprint will allow to obtain important clues about a person's lifestyle, and that the project will significantly contribute to the development of forensic science and expand detection capabilities.”

In addition to scientists from the university in Łódź, researchers from the Jagiellonian University, the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin are also involved in the research project launched in 2019, as is an IT company that will use the research results to create a computer program to predict human characteristics based on data from traces biological materials secured at the scene of the incident. The project leader is the Central Forensic Laboratory of the Police in Warsaw.

Professor Sitek said: “We started our work by collecting blood samples and swabs from the oral mucosa in order to isolate DNA from them for further genetic and epigenetic analyses.”

The subjects also completed a very detailed questionnaire about their lifestyle. In addition, the researchers took photographs and precise three-dimensional scans of the face.

Sitek said: “All because another important goal of our project is to check whether the rate of biological ageing of the body correlates with the degree of facial ageing. If so, based on the biological trace, we will be able to determine whether the person the police are looking for may already be clearly grey or significantly balding.”

The research project is expected to continue for one more year. (PAP)

PAP - Science in Poland, Bartłomiej Pawlak

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