A Forensic Breakthrough


The courts, common sense, and almost every crime show tells us that evidence collection hinges on the quality of recovered DNA at the crime scene. With any luck, that collected data reveals a clear and condemning signature of the suspect. What those shows overlook is that analyzing the same cell sample over and over again can destroy its value along with the criminal case.

To put it simply, nondestructive cell sampling means better forensics. However, labs everywhere struggle to truly examine a sample without compromising it's most crucial, microscopic information. Christopher Ehrhardt, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Forensic Science in the College of Humanities and Sciences has pioneered a method of taking a much closer look at cells’ make-up. Ehrhardt analyzes and reconstructs key attributes of individuals who deposited cells, like their age, sex and etc.

Using a standard benchtop microscope, Ehrhardt takes a snapshot of a cell encased within drops of water. He measures the size, shape and fluorescent properties using software programmed to recognize the cell characteristics.

“This new procedure can be used to identify different cell types in a sample as well as potentially indicate some attributes of the individuals who deposited the cells, like age, sex and so forth,” Ehrhardt said. “And the best part is that the procedure is nondestructive. After imaging, the cells can be used to generate a DNA profile. This is really important since many samples have very little biological material, so the more information you can get without consuming the sample, the better.” 

““Labs will be able to analyze aged or degraded forensic samples in a quick and nondestructive manner — and with much better results.” ”

Christopher Ehrhardt, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Forensic Science College of Humanities and Sciences