How just a drop of DNA can create a mugshot profile
(Australian article)

Getting away with murder in the 21st century is set to get tougher and may soon prove impossible.

Rapid advances in science and technology are arming police with a new and formidable crime-fighting arsenal.

Investigators will soon be able to routinely create a genetic mugshot of a suspect from a sample of DNA left at a crime scene, or determine their prescription drug use, diet and the time they were at the scene from a single fingerprint. They will even be able to accurately predict their age and height from a single eyebrow hair.

The Sunday Telegraph interviewed leading forensic experts to delve into the cutting-edge ways police will catch crooks in the near future.

European scientists have developed technology that can create a genetic mugshot of an offender based purely on a DNA sample.

Someone who commits a murder and leaves traces of blood, saliva, skin, semen or even hair at the scene could *potentially have their DNA-generated mugshot out on social media just hours after their victim’s body is discovered by police.

“The most obvious application of this technology is crime scene *investigation,” imaging specialist Dr Peter Claes, of the Catholic University of Leuven, in Belgium, said.

“Thirty per cent of crime scene DNA samples in Belgium are still unidentified. To give some value to these samples you could try to predict the face. Is this going to be valuable evidence in court? I doubt it. It’s going to be an investigation tool, not a conviction tool.”

The National Institute of Forensic Science’s Dr Linzi Wilson-Wilde said police could send DNA samples overseas now but setting up the groundbreaking technology in Australia would take time.

NSW Police Forensic Services commander Peter Cotter wouldn’t confirm that police have used the facial DNA mapping technology.

“There are dozens of fascinating new developments in the forensic world, and we follow them with inter*est,” he said.

“Forensic Services prides itself on keeping up to date with emerging technologies and working with experts in forensic and analytical science.”

Western Sydney University forensic scientist Chris Lennard said research was under way to establish a full chemical profile of a suspect from the fingerprints they leave at a crime scene.

American company ArroGen is offering this service already, determining age, smoker status, caffeine consumption, gender and other factors from the tiniest bodily trace.

“They can pick up if they’ve *recently taken pharmaceutical, *illicit or performance-enhancing drugs, and potentially even determine the diet of the individual,” Prof Lennard said. The implications are huge when you consider, say, a fingerprint found at a murder scene testing positive for steroids. In a town of 100,000, police could use this intelligence to target gyms and narrow the list of suspects.



Assist with aerial photography, defining boundaries of the crime scene and filling in 3D imaging technology. Prevents footsteps contaminating the scene.


Terrestrial laser scanner captures anything in 3D, with a range of 160m within three minutes. Used in Lindt Cafe. Rozelle fire and Parramatta police shooting investigations.


Prints replica skulls, murder weapons, broken bones and body wounds. Used for gathering intelligence and by police prosecutors in jury trials.


US company ArroGen claims it can determine a suspect’s gender, nicotine status and exposure to explosives or drugs by analysing fingerprint residue. Potential to determine exact age of fingerprint.


Blood splatter and ballistics experts will no longer have to travel to a crime scene because evidence is captured and viewed on Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles. Works with the 3D scanner.


European-only genetic mugshot created by analysing 365 genetic markers based on a saliva sample. Software uses a mesh of 7150 “quasi-landmarks” on the face, based on genetic information.

Coming soon...


Blood could be analysed at the crime scene and within hours determine a suspect’s race, height, gender, hair and eye colour, age, skin colour and facial shape.


Pathologists would never need to lift a scalpel, instead using CAT scans, combined with a more comprehensive DNA profile and toxicology report, to provide the information they need. What takes weeks would take days, even hours.


Motorists pulled over by cops will in future be fingerprinted, have eyes scanned or even DNA profile read. NSW Police already upload fingerprints to a database.

Prof Lennard said police prosecutions have been crippled in the past by the inability to determine the exact time a criminal left a fingerprint on a particular surface. But by using mass spectrometry technology, within as little as five years researchers could pinpoint the exact day on which the fingerprint was deposited.

NSW Police already use other cutting-edge technology like drones and 3D scanners to help create 3D maps of crime scenes. They used 3D scanners to map the site of the recent Rozelle explosion that killed three people. The scanners were also used in the October 2 terrorist shooting of accountant Curtis Cheng at Parramatta police headquarters.

With just a drop of saliva, experts can ‘create’ a suspect’s face. Ben Pike put his DNA to the test.

IT’S the stuff of science fiction and a quantum leap in crime- fighting technology that has police forces drooling.

Scientists can now potentially create a detailed genetic mugshot of an offender from just a tiny amount of DNA left at a crime scene. The image can be gener-ated within hours, speeding up *investigations by narrowing down the number of suspects.

I sent my DNA saliva sample off to geneticist Mark Shriver at Pennsylvania State University in the US, and Peter Claes at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. What came back was an eerily accurate set of images based on 365 genetic variants *relating to my eyes, nose, lips, chin, ethnicity and gender.

The image is measured against a database of 2000 other Europeans (I’m western European) who had their genetic profile compared with scans of their faces.

To complete the image I gave them my height, weight and age.

For comparison, I then asked fellow staffer Rebecca Gredley to describe my face to Sergeant Brian Barnes, team leader of the NSW Police forensics imaging team, to create an EFIT-V profile.

EFIT-V, which replaced the old COMFIT system in NSW last year, is a facial composite system that uses artificial intelligence to guide eyewitnesses to accurate and realistic images of crime suspects. The EFIT-V image can also be created within a matter of hours and is available to police across the state.

Sgt Barnes said over the past 12 months victims of crime had “got goosebumps” and been “brought to tears” after completing the image of the offender.

Ms Gredley was more circumspect: “Despite knowing Ben, it was difficult to create his face based purely on memory, particularly after seeing many faces, which blurred everything *together. I felt like when I chose and ‘locked in’ a feature, it was a big decision to make. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for someone to create a ‘likeness’ from their blurred memory after being attacked by someone they have not seen *before, or since.”

The DNA mugshot technology has the potential to take the guesswork out of identifying criminals as long as they leave traces of their DNA at the scene or on a victim. In my view, the cops would be on to me much faster using my DNA mugshot than they would using EFIT-V.

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