Recently, the human microbiome has been studied for applications in human identification and its potential transfer to various surfaces. However, there has been little research on the genital microbiome, which physiologically differs from other body sites, and has great potential value in cases of sexual assault. As per Locard’s Principle of Exchange, the genital microbiome may indicate proof of sexual contact between two individuals, and then be used as evidence within criminal casework.
During her poster presentation at ISHI 33, Andrea will discuss a study in which the results can be used to examine the specificity of additional bacterial species to the genital area as well as demonstrate the transfer of specific bacterial species between partners.
We talked with Andrea to learn a little bit more about her poster presentation. If you’ll be at ISHI 33 this year, be sure to stop by poster #37 to learn more!
Briefly describe your work/area of interest.
Ten monogamous couples were recruited to participate in a Pre-/Post-Coital study where genital swabs were self-collected before and after sexual intercourse. The samples were shotgun metagenomic sequenced and examined for the presence of genital-specific target species. I performed participant recruitment and sample collection, extraction of microbial DNA and quantification of samples. Key collaborators in this project involved PhD Candidate Mirna Ghemrawi, Dr. Bruce McCord, Dr. George Duncan, MAWI DNA Technologies, and EZBiome. When comparing pre- and post-coital samples for each couple, they were examined for the presence of genital-specific target species, including L. iners, L. gasseri, L. jensenii, and L. crispatus, and Gardnerella vaginalis, which are known for composing the bulk of the vaginal microbiome. These results can be used to examine the specificity of additional bacterial species to the genital area as well as demonstrate the transfer of specific bacterial species between partners.
How did you get interested in this work? Why did this particular project appeal?
As I was serving on the planning committee for FIU’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month creating programs focusing on the current sexual assault kit backlog, I came across a paper on forensic science efforts to decrease the backlog. I became interested in microbial forensics as a result of looking at different ways to approach the SAK backlog.
Can you summarize the impact of your work for the audience (ISHI attendees and some general forensic enthusiasts)? How might this advance the field?
This project, hopefully, provides a lot of insight into the signature of the genital microbiome, and that it can be a valuable tool to explore in sexual assault cases. Forensic research also impacts a lot further beyond crime labs. Studies show that when members of the criminal justice system purposefully innovate and demonstrate interest in bettering the way the system works, survivors of crimes feel safer and more inclined to report.
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