Solving violent crimes with LC-MS/MS

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  • Published: Dec 10, 2015
  • Author: Jon Evans
  • Source: Tübingen University
  • Channels: HPLC / Base Peak

Researchers at Tübingen University in Germany have developed a novel proteomics method for accurately reconstructing crimes involving sharp blades or firearms. As described in the Journal of Proteome Research, their method is based on using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to detect traces of organic material found on bullets or other weapons used in crimes.

Forensic science has long employed molecular biology to link tiny amounts of organic material to a suspect. Yet such methods are less useful when it comes to finding out which shot or stab wound was the cause of death, as they permit a weapon to be linked to the victim but not the projectile to the wound. But this information can be useful when trying to reconstruct a crime, such as in cases where several people are involved in a shoot-out.

Using LC-MS/MS, the researchers demonstrated that projectiles fired through vital organs bear traces of organ-specific proteins. These protein ‘signatures’ allow experts to identify which organ the projectile passed through – and even match a bullet to the wound it caused.

The researchers initially tested the process by manually inserting bullets into cattle organs, which have characteristic protein signatures. After experiments showed that a majority of these protein signatures for the cattle organs could be determined by LC-MS/MS, the method was put to the test in a real murder case.

Unfortunately, the proteomics analysis yielded no clear result due to contaminants. However, the identification of organ-specific proteins on several projectiles still allowed forensic scientists to match all wounds to projectiles using a process of elimination, leading to a complete reconstruction of the crime.

This LC-MS/MS method has been patented and licensed. The Tübingen researchers hope that the method will now be widely used to compile a forensic database of protein signatures for all important organs, and their combinations. This database will be made available to forensic experts, so that the signatures can be quickly and effectively identified.

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