03 November 2022

Four-legged witnesses

The police will be able to attract cats as witnesses to the crime

Anna Novikovskaya, Naked Science

In the popular computer game "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim", players who decide to violate local laws and steal a sweet roll from someone else's house may face a funny situation when a chicken wandering nearby becomes a witness who subsequently surrendered them to the city guard. It sounds absurd, but not so far from reality, where cats and dogs will soon be able to act as reliable witnesses of offenses.

The fact is that our pets, being in houses, constantly collect human DNA samples on their wool. Prior to this, researchers did not pay attention to whether such samples were good enough to identify a person using them and, for example, accurately answer the question whether a certain "Mr. X" was in the victim's house before the crime was committed.

Now researchers from the Flinders College of Science and Engineering (Australia), in collaboration with the Department of Forensic Medicine of the Victoria State Police, have decided to answer this question by collecting human DNA samples from the fur of 20 cats from different homes. 

The results of DNA analysis showed that cats who had a small smear taken from their fur could indeed be "attracted" as witnesses to the presence of a person in the house: 80 percent of the DNA samples contained enough to detect it, and 70 percent of the researchers were able to determine whether the genetic material belonged to a specific person. Thus, thanks to the cat's fur, investigators will be able to link the presence of a certain person to the house where the cat lives.

The results obtained can serve not only prosecutors, but also lawyers: now that it is known that pets can carry human DNA on themselves, its presence at the crime scene, where a cat lives nearby, can only be an accident, and stronger evidence will be needed to accurately establish guilt.

The study is published in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics Supplement Series (Monkman et al., Is there human DNA on cats).

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