Crime-Fighting Kitties: Cat Hair Could Be the Next Forensic Tool

By Smriti Rao | March 22, 2010 11:19 am

catYou may think of your furry feline friend simply as a companion, but look closely and you will find that your whiskered pal also the ability to be a crime-fighting supercat.

An team of scientists has found that fur shed by cats can serve as forensic evidence, thanks to the DNA it contains. In fact, a man was recently convicted of second-degree murder in Canada after fur found on his discarded jacket matched that of Snowball–the victim’s cat. The telltale fur led to a 15-year prison sentence. Scientists say that it may soon become commonplace to use the genetic material in fur shed by cats to link perpetrators, accomplices, witnesses, and victims.

As the researchers wrote in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics:

“Cats are fastidious groomers, and shed fur can have sufficient genetic material for trace forensic studies, allowing potential analysis of both standard short tandem repeat (STR) and mitochondrial DNA regions.”

Veterinary scientist Robert Grahn and his team have already amassed a feline DNA database containing samples drawn from 25 distinct worldwide cat populations and 26 breeds. The resultant database of 1,394 cat DNA sequences gives scientists a baseline understanding of the overall genetic diversity of cats, so they can determine where to look for unique identifiers in the cat genome, and figure out how definative a match is. The new database focuses on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is genetic material inherited from one’s mother.

Grahn explained to Discovery News that aside from mtDNA, nuclear DNA–which is even better for identifying individuals–can also be found on those cat hairs that still retain their root bulbs or on skin particles that might stick to the oily fur when cats groom themselves.

These natural oils, along with static electricity and the sheer volume of fur, mean that people who enter a property with a resident cat are like fur magnets. It is almost impossible to avoid having one or more cat furs cling to skin, clothing, shoes, bags and more.

A forensic test using the STR technique, which looks at particular markers in the cat genome, has already has been developed by forensic geneticist John Butler. Called the “Meowplex,” that test can be used in conjunction with this new mtDNA database to help cats throws crooks behind bars.

For now, it’s the cats’ DNA database that is being built, but your doggy need not feel left out of this episode of “Paw and Order.” Scientists hope to add canine and other animal DNA into this mix later.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Ancient Egyptians Loved Their Dead Animals
DISCOVER: Pox From Your Pets
Discoblog: Is Pollution in China Causing Cats to Grow “Wings?”
Discoblog: Oscar The Death Cat: I Haz Sniffed Many Deaths
The Loom: Cat-Blogging from Deep Time

Image:Wikimedia

MORE ABOUT: cats, crime, DNA, forensics, genetics
  • http://www.cat-toure.com Jeff

    Cool stuff…cats may not scare a robber off like a dog, but it can solve a case better then one.
    – Jeff http://www.cat-toure.com -

  • http://twitter.com/mandydax mandydax

    Man, no one will get away with a crime in this house.
    PS: http://cheezburger.com/View.aspx?aid=3320258048

  • http://wowoyeye.net angelo

    wow!!! i’ll be getting a cat or two from my girlfriend now, cause they have around 20 cats in their households.lol.

  • http://www.ashevillemassage.net Asheville Massage

    This is very cool. I never really thought a cat could play such a vital role in a murder case!

  • howdy

    i like tee kittees

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Discoblog

Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »