Study says hand odor can help identify the sex of a criminal

The research can help in criminal investigations of robbery, rape and assault.
Sejal Sharma
Representational image
Representational image

moonHo Joe/iStock 

Human odor is a complex mixture of secretions from the body, impacted by genetics and environmental factors. Our body odor sometimes stays in the environment because of the constant shedding of the outer layer of the skin, along with sweat, oils, and other glandular secretions.

A team of researchers at the Florida International University studied the profile of scent compounds from a person’s hand and found that it can be used to predict their sex.

Can aid criminal investigations

By using a person’s scent from either their breath or armpits, the study expands on the capability of using hand odor for forensic research that could help in criminal investigations like robbery, rape and assault.

The researchers note that although fingerprints and DNA are the biometrics most commonly utilized to identify a suspect or victim of a crime, these forms of evidence can be found in quantities that are too small to be used, leaving little to no forensic evidence that can be used for prosecution.

Dogs are often trained and used as specialized sentient detectors to distinguish and identify personal human odor. But even though canines are reliable, laboratory-based subject identification has been difficult due to the lack of robust datasets and analytical techniques.

Scent collected from palms of 60 individuals

The researchers collected hand odor of sixty individuals of African American, Hispanic, and Caucasian race/ethnicity, for their study. People were asked not to wash their hands for a minimum of one hour prior to sampling.

The human sweat will have no odor until it interacts with the microbiota in the skin. After this interaction, there is a breakdown of non-volatile chemicals into volatile molecules that form a distinctive human ’scent.’

“Although genetics and microbial diversity aid in the stability of odor, there is a secondary odor composition that has been determined to be variable and endogenous via the skin’s multi-layer composition,” noted the researchers. 

Physiological secretions are excreted through the eccrine, apocrine, and sebaceous. Of these three glands, the researchers have focused on the eccrine gland, which is distributed all over the body but more densely in the palms, forehead, and soles of the feet.

The researchers used an analysis technique called mass spectrometry, with a 96.67% accuracy rate for both male and female samples.

"The overall impact of this study could assist in changing the trajectory of how we currently utilize human odor in the field of forensic. Investigators now have an opportunity to rapidly assess the volatiles of collected human odor samples," concluded the researchers.

The study was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board