Estimating the Time Since Deposition of Saliva Stains With a Targeted Bacterial DNA Approach: A Proof-of-Principle Study

Celia Díez López, Manfred Kayser, Athina Vidaki*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Information on the time when a stain was deposited at a crime scene can be valuable in forensic investigations. It can link a DNA-identified stain donor with a crime or provide a post-mortem interval estimation in cases with cadavers. The available methods for estimating stain deposition time have limitations of different types and magnitudes. In this proof-of-principle study we investigated for the first time the use of microbial DNA for this purpose in human saliva stains. First, we identified the most abundant and frequent bacterial species in saliva using publicly available 16S rRNA gene next generation sequencing (NGS) data from 1,848 samples. Next, we assessed time-dependent changes in 15 identified species using de-novo 16S rRNA gene NGS in the saliva stains of two individuals exposed to indoor conditions for up to 1 year. We selected four bacterial species, i.e., Fusobacterium periodonticum, Haemophilus parainfluenzae, Veillonella dispar, and Veillonella parvula showing significant time-dependent changes and developed a 4-plex qPCR assay for their targeted analysis. Then, we analyzed the saliva stains of 15 individuals exposed to indoor conditions for up to 1 month. Bacterial counts generally increased with time and explained 54.9% of the variation (p = <2.2E–16). Time since deposition explained ≥86.5% and ≥88.9% of the variation in each individual and species, respectively (p = <2.2E–16). Finally, based on sample duplicates we built and tested multiple linear regression models for predicting the stain deposition time at an individual level, resulting in an average mean absolute error (MAE) of 5 days (ranging 3.3–7.8 days). Overall, the deposition time of 181 (81.5%) stains was correctly predicted within 1 week. Prediction models were also assessed in stains exposed to similar conditions up to 1 month 7 months later, resulting in an average MAE of 8.8 days (ranging 3.9–16.9 days). Our proof-of-principle study suggests the potential of the DNA profiling of human commensal bacteria as a method of estimating saliva stains time since deposition in the forensic scenario, which may be expanded to other forensically relevant tissues. The study considers practical applications of this novel approach, but various forensic developmental validation and implementation criteria will need to be met in more dedicated studies in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number647933
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Volume12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2021

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