Police could soon identify you by your hair proteins

They could be more useful than DNA for some forensics.

Julie Russell/LLNL

Police and archaeologists regularly depend on DNA evidence for identification, but it has a serious flaw. DNA degrades under environmental conditions like heat and light, so it may be useless even if you have a ton of samples. However, Lawrence Livermore researchers have a better way: they've established a method of identifying humans based on hair protein markers. The markers are much more resilient than DNA (scientists found markers in remains about 250 years old) while remaining unique, with no one person sharing the same marker count and patterns. You only need a few hairs to get a result, too, and the ultimate goal is to pinpoint someone using a single strand of hair.

Don't expect it to reach crime labs just yet. Although the current technique is already effective at identifying one person out of a million, that still leaves some room for doubt. The lab wants to pick up to 100 markers that would be enough to single out a person from the Earth's entire population. And did we mention that the current identification process takes about 2.5 days? Law enforcement would likely want a faster turnaround to catch suspects and identify victims while a case is still fresh.

If Lawrence Livermore can improve the process, it could usher in a new era for investigations. DNA would still be useful, but you'd frequently have an alternative for those moments when genes simply aren't an option. You'd stand a better chance of identifying a murder victim even if they've been left out in the open for decades, and you could easily confirm someone's lineage through remains dating back multiple generations.