This is a project undertaken by Professor Ritesh Shukla of the School of Arts and Science’s Biological and Life Sciences Division and it has been funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) of the Indian Government’s Department of Science and Technology, under its Early Career Research Award scheme. The project is rooted within the discipline of forensic biology and its objective is to develop a lateral flow device (or detection kit) for the on-site identification of bodily fluids such as blood, semen and saliva. The project is currently at the stage of working out a new and more efficient method for blood detection, generally regarded as the most common source of forensic evidence while also being a domain where there remains considerable room for improvement, as far as methodology is concerned.
Typically, the manner in which blood-detection happens is that samples of fluids suspected to be blood are collected and transported from the crime scene to a lab to undergo a screening test via what is known as the ‘chemical enhancement method’. Once the results are obtained and it is confirmed that it is indeed blood that has been found, the forensic process moves to its second phase, and DNA testing/profiling is carried out for personal identification (if required). This involves using colour producing reagents (often from among the following: iodine, cyanoacrylate, silver nitrate or ninhydrin) to cause a reaction and to bring out the latent finger-prints present within the sample.
Blood-detection is an important procedure because it ensures that the forensics team does not end up wasting valuable time and resources following up on false leads. That said, there are significant problems with the methods that are currently employed. For one, there are often considerable time lags that occur due to the need to transport blood samples to a lab and wait for results. This is not ideal in a situation where a few hours could make a crucial difference in identifying and arresting culprits. Secondly, the standard screening test involves observing the reactions the test samples undergo when exposed to certain chemicals. Whilst this is an effective method for blood detection, the chemical reactions involved lead to DNA degradation in the test samples. This often means that the same samples are then no longer suitable for further DNA analysis. This problem can be overcome by using other samples from the same source at the crime scene, but in instances where there are only minuscule traces available, non-viable samples can jeopardise the entire investigation.
In response to these problems, Professor’s Shukla’s project is also developing a novel method of blood detection in which the same samples can be used for further DNA analysis, even after going through the initial screening test. The combined benefit of his kit and novel procedure would be an ability for blood detection forensics to be carried out at the crime scene, thereby considerably reducing the time involved in the process. Moreover, it will work to prevent significant DNA degradation and so will preserve scarce blood samples for further analysis. Such a test would be ground-breaking for forensic science in India, with few analogues being employed elsewhere in the world and no equivalent existing within the country.