By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
Detectives in the 1800s and early 1900s, much like the fictional character Sherlock Holmes, used fingerprints to identify suspects who were at a crime scene. It seems like this method was left in the dust when DNA analysis came along, however, fingerprint matching is still one of the most reliable tools available in forensics – the science of examining information about the past. Now, recent advances will make fingerprints more useful than ever!
One area researchers are working on actually goes beyond the scope of a print itself. You see, our fingertips give off oil that’s left behind on the objects we touch. While old techniques focused on the fingerprint left in the oil, scientists are now turning to the residue itself. Apparently, it reveals a ton of information like an individual’s gender, what medicine they take, what drugs (if any) they are on, and even if they are a regular smoker or not! There are still a few kinks to work out, but the method of analysis looks promising.
Meanwhile, a separate group of researchers are working on a way to analyze fingerprints left on difficult surfaces, like areas that are underwater or on rocks. This is just about as complicated as it gets because oil tends to separate in water. However, the scientists are working on special detergents and other chemicals that can reconstruct the print to be more easily read.
Is it worth putting all this effort in trying to revive a seemingly outdated method? According to specialists in the criminology field, using fingerprints is much more trustworthy than using DNA analysis. Incorrect matches are made only about 1 in 1000 times, and only about 8 in 100 of criminals are accidentally set free. So, while we’ve come a long way from detectives peeping through magnifying glasses, fingerprints are just about as informative as they’ve ever been.