A groundbreaking technique of biological identification that relies on information encoded in proteins of human hair has been developed by scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), a Utah startup company, and collaborators from seven universities in the United States and England.
The hair protein testing technique was invented in March 2013 by Biochemist Glendon Parker, who at the time was an Assistant Professor of Biology at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah. Parker is currently a consultant with the LLNL, and is founder and CEO of Protein-Based Identification Technologies LLC.
Investigation of the use of protein as an identification technique was spurred by a 2009 report from the National Research Council that argued for the development of new forensic testing methods to overcome the scientific shortcomings of DNA testing.
The hair protein technique provides a scientific, statistically validated method of identifying people and linking an individual to evidence. However, it can be much more precise than DNA profiling as an identification tool. The hair protein technique is such a precise identification method because there are about 1,000 genetic markers in hair protein mutations. Theoretically, every single person on earth could be individually identified through their hair protein markers, which isn’t possible with DNA testing.
The testing technique also has the advantage that hair protein is chemically hardy and robust. , while the DNA molecule “is quite fragile,” and “When the DNA molecule degrades from light, heat exposure or other environmental conditions, it becomes useless for identification.” A positive identification can result from the protein testing of hair that is too degraded or otherwise unsuitable for DNA testing.
The hair protein discoveries have inspired research into the use of protein in bones, skin follicles and teeth as an identification technique.
A research paper authored by Parker and others explaining the use of human hair protein as an identification technique has been published on PLOS.org. “Demonstration of Protein-Based Human Identification Using the Hair Shaft Proteome,” can be read at www.journals.plos.org.