#TECH: Tracking down criminals from cat hair

FOR years, investigators have been using dogs' incredible sense of smell to track down criminals. But what about their No. 1 rival, cats? Researchers at Australia's Flinders University have discovered that they too can be very useful in criminal cases.

Heidi Monkman, Roland A.H. van Oorschot and Mariya Goray noticed that felines' fur retain traces of the genetic material of a person who has been in their vicinity.

To reach this conclusion, the scientists collected human DNA samples from 20 domestic cats from 15 households. They visited the homes of individual participants in the study to take the samples on site. The goal was to see if any of the participants' skin cells had been transferred to their pet.

The researchers also asked the (human) occupants of each home to fill out a questionnaire about their cat's behavior and habits, to find out how often they pet their cat or who pets them the most.

Traces of DNA were detected in 80 per cent of the samples taken from the felines. Monkman and her colleagues found no significant difference between the amount of DNA present in the fur of the cats and the time elapsed since their last contact with a human, or in the length of the cat's hair. Moreover, 70 per cent of the DNA profiles generated from the feline samples were reliable enough to be associated with individuals.

This is the first study to examine how pets can contribute to DNA transfer. "Collection of human DNA has become very important in crime scene investigations, but there is a lack of data on companion animals, such as cats and dogs in their relationship to human DNA transfer," says forensic scientist Monkman in a statement published on

Nevertheless, the forensic expert says these four-legged companions can be very useful in determining the presence and activities of a home's inhabitants, or even any recent visitors to the scene.

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