In total, more than 8,000 distinct microbial assemblages were identified among the more than 400 individuals who took part in the study.
Next, the scientists attempted to match the microbial signature of the burglars back to the homes they visited. They write:
"Unique microbial assemblages mapped burglars to homes they burglarized with an accuracy greater than 75 percent."
In other words, by assessing the differences between the microbes they found before and after the burglary, they could identify that someone else had been in the home and narrow it down to a specific individual.
"This study is one of the first to use the microbiome as a forensic tool using unique markers rather than variances in microbial community structure," says Hampton-Marcell.
"With further improvement in detection of stable markers," he adds, "the human microbiome may serve as an additional tool for human profiling and crime scene investigations."
So, it might be some time before a criminal's microbial load commits them to jail, but the potential for it to be used in this way seems intriguing. More work is sure to follow.
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