COURTESY PHOTOS
Christian Lauber, a researcher at CU s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, with DNA samples used in his current research. Lauber co-authored a study finding that people have unique hand bacteria.

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The bacteria on your hands may be as unique as your fingerprints — and potentially as incriminating, according to researchers at the University of Colorado.

A study authored by CU-Boulder assistant professor Noah Fierer and published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that human hands carry personalized bacteria, traceable on items such as computer keyboards.

“Basically, it means the things that you commonly touch, that are yours, have your unique hand bacteria on them,” said co-author Christian Lauber, a researcher at CU’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

“In another way, it means that from surfaces that individuals touch regularly, we can link them to their users, and possibly use this for identification purposes in the future.”

Other co-authors of the study include Nick Zhou, also of CIRES; assistant professor Rob Knight and Daniel McDonald, of CU’s chemistry and biochemistry department; and Elizabeth Costello, of Stanford University.

The team swabbed personal computers at CU, then compared the bacteria collected to that of the computers’ owners as well as people who had never touched the machines. Their results showed that the analysis is about 70 to 90 percent accurate, and those numbers could increase as technology advances.

“While this project is still in its preliminary stages, we think the technique could eventually become a valuable new item in the toolbox of forensic scientists,” Fierer said in a news release.

He said more research is needed to determine how the bacterial signatures adhere to different surfaces. But the techniques could be useful for linking objects to users when clear fingerprints can’t be obtained.

The study is part of a larger effort by the team to develop a better understanding of how to tag DNA samples in order to obtain more accurate gene-sequencing data, funded by the university and a $1.1 million grant from the National Institute of Health.

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